Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Electric streetcars on the agenda at city hall

Katz's inner circle to ponder LRT option

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ELECTRIC streetcars are in and fast buses could be turning onto the exit ramp.

At least, that's what Mayor Sam Katz and his councillors will be discussing next week when the executive policy committee receives a recommendation from the city's public service to endorse Light Rail Transit (LRT) instead of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

Katz said the report, which cost $10,000, has two of the top consultants in the field -- IBI Group and HDR Decision Economics -- showing the difference between the two options is not as much as many people have thought.

Katz said while BRT costs $38 million per kilometre, LRT costs $50 million per kilometre.

"People have said LRT-light would cost six times more, but that's not true," the mayor said.

"LRT-light definitely gets people to switch from their cars and it increases the density of residential and commercial.

"And there's the potential of federal funding."

Katz said while traditional LRT consists of trains, what the city is looking at is LRT with streetcars using dedicated rail lines.

Currently, the city's first BRT route is being constructed from downtown to the Jubilee Overpass.

But while the province and Ottawa have offered the city $130 million toward the $220-million second phase, which would take it closer to the University of Manitoba, Katz hasn't signed off on the plan because he now wants to upgrade the entire corridor to rail.

Last month, provincial Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux told Katz to "get moving" on the second-phase agreement, but while senior Manitoba MP Vic Toews said it was time for the mayor "to fish or cut bait," he did say rapid transit is an approved category for public-private partnership funding.

Katz said LRT is actually an idea that was pushed by a former mayor back in the 1960s.

"Stephen Juba, many years ago, was pushing for LRT -- but it was above grade (a monorail) while we're looking at grade."

Noting several cities including Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary already have LRT, Katz said: "Wouldn't it be nice to think of Winnipeg as a leader instead of decades behind?"

Paul Hesse, a member of the Winnipeg Rapid Transit Coalition, a volunteer citizens group pushing for rapid transit, said he wants to see the latest information before he can comment further. "At this point, we have to wait and see the details," Hesse said.

Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who sparred with Katz in the past when another plan to build a BRT route to the U of M was scrapped, said all she knows about the recommendation is what she read in the mayor's press release on Friday.

"I thought we were just doing a study on it, but now I guess they have all the answers," Gerbasi said.

"I guess we're doing transportation policy through press releases."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 3, 2010 B1

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