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Councillor calls for referendum on bus corridor

Wants it included in fall election

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City of Winnipeg Rapid Transit buses arrive and depart from the Osborne Street Station in April.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

City of Winnipeg Rapid Transit buses arrive and depart from the Osborne Street Station in April. Photo Store

Political opposition to the second phase of Winnipeg's southwest bus corridor is growing within city hall.

Coun. Jeff Browaty said Wednesday he won't support the completion of the bus corridor unless it's put to a referendum in the fall election.

"I honestly don't think it's our best value for almost $600 million," Browaty (North Kildonan) said, adding several of the city's other transportation needs should warrant a higher priority and can be funded with all the funds allocated for the bus corridor, citing the westward extension of the Chief Peguis trail, widening of Kenaston Boulevard and the Waverley underpass.

"Every one of them provides a better value for money than rapid transit Phase 2."

Browaty joins St. James-Brooksland Coun. Scott Fielding in opposition to the project.

The city is preparing a formal request for $140 million in federal funding for the project, but Browaty said that request should be put on hold.

Browaty said he favours a non-binding plebiscite or referendum be included in the Oct. 22 civic-election ballot, asking Winnipeggers if they support the completion of the rapid-transit project. He said he's prepared to move a motion at next week's council meeting to put that into place.

Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who supports rapid transit, said Browaty's call for a referendum is a tactic to kill the project.

"A referendum might seem more democratic, but even if it passes in the fall, it would mean a delay of a year or more, which would add tens of millions of dollars to the cost and jeopardize funds from Ottawa and the province," Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) said.

Coun. Russ Wyatt said he wouldn't support a referendum designed to stop rapid transit.

"I think there is an opportunity to build support for rapid transit as long as the (referendum) question is clear and fair," Wyatt (Transcona) said. "But Coun. Browaty is using a referendum to advance his own political ends, and that's unfortunate."

Browaty's concerns come a day after the civic administration released a detailed report on the $590-million bus rapid-transit corridor, which needs to be endorsed by council at its June meeting before Ottawa will consider the application for financial assistance.

Coun. Paula Havixbeck, who is running for mayor, said while she supports rapid transit, she has concerns with what is contained in the latest administrative report and what is not.

"I support rapid transit, but I want to make sure we do it right," Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) said.

Havixbeck said administrators have given verbal commitments the corridor is convertible to light rail and will reach the U of M campus, but neither issue is mentioned in the report.

The report places too much authority for issuing contracts into the hands of individual senior administrators, she said, adding that's what caused the problem with the over-expenditures with the fire-hall replacement program.

There are persistent rumours part of the bundled project will provide drainage relief for adjacent developers, she said, adding the administration refuses to address the issue.

Fielding, who announced Wednesday he won't be running for mayor, said he remains opposed to rapid transit, adding the city can't afford both the corridor and the expenses associated with maintaining the city's infrastructure.

Both Fielding and Browaty have focused on the $590-million price tag, ignoring the bus corridor portion of the project is now estimated to cost $407.8 million, with that amount cost-shared with the province and Ottawa.

The remainder of the bundled project includes reconstruction and expansion of the Jubilee underpass ($72.5 million), associated drainage work ($39.8 million) and a construction contingency of $69.4 million.

The province and city will each contribute $225 million and Ottawa, if it approves, $140 million.

The report said to cover the $20-million annual payments, the city could increase property taxes, raise bus fares, take the funds from existing revenues, or a combination of all three.

Browaty said $20 million is the equivalent of a four per cent property-tax increase, adding he can't support allocating that amount of money to the project.

"Twenty million dollars a year -- that's going to come out of local streets, regional streets," Browaty said. "Where are you going to find $20 million a year?"

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 22, 2014 A6

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