Winnipeg's first rapid-transit line is on track to be finished in 2019, more than four decades after the city first envisioned a busway connecting downtown and the University of Manitoba.
The city and province have reached a $600-million deal to complete the Southwest Transitway, a dedicated bus corridor initially proposed in 1976 and partly completed last year.
The 3.6-kilometre first phase of the busway, which runs from Queen Elizabeth Way near The Forks to Jubilee Avenue near Pembina Highway, opened in April 2012 at a cost of $138 million. But a deal to extend the corridor to the University of Manitoba's Fort Garry campus was mired in a city-provincial funding dispute.
Standing inside Osborne Station on Tuesday, Premier Greg Selinger and Mayor Sam Katz announced an end to the impasse by agreeing to complete the transitway as part of a larger package of Fort Garry infrastructure projects that also includes the widening of the Jubilee underpass and combined-sewer replacements.
"Everybody loves drama. The good thing about a drama, there's a denouement, a conclusion," said Selinger, explaining how he and Katz went from accusing each other of sabotaging the transitway completion in June to agreeing on a plan in November.
"We've been working on it for quite a few months," added Katz. "To be very frank, from a point (of view) of government, it actually moved quite quickly."
The plan on the table calls for the city and province to each contribute $225 million for the overall project, which includes the $425-million transitway job, the $105-million Jubilee underpass reconstruction and a $70 million worth of combined-sewer replacements in the vicinity of Calrossie Boulevard and Cockburn Street. The underpass job would involve an additional northbound lane on Pembina Highway and a bike-and-pedestrian lane.
The city plans to ask Ottawa to provide the remaining $150 million through the P3 Canada Fund, a pool of money made available for public-private projects. The transitway, however, would remain city owned and operated.
Co-ordinating all this work will cut down on traffic disruption and eliminate the need to relocate rail lines more than once, Winnipeg chief operating officer Deepak Joshi said in June, when the larger project was proposed.
Selinger said the integrated project will cut down on traffic disruption by two years -- and will also be cheaper than conducting three separate jobs.
He also expressed confidence Ottawa will approve the proposal, given significant recent federal commitments to rapid-transit projects in Toronto, Ottawa and other Canadian cities.
"There's no question that the federal government is starting to show more interest in good public transportation in other parts of country. We fully expect them to treat Manitoba in the same way as other parts of the country," the premier said.
A response from Ottawa is expected by the summer of 2014. Katz said the project must proceed even without federal help. "In my mind, it has to go ahead, absolutely," he said.
St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding, who voted against the first phase of the Southwest Transitway, said all three levels of government should priortize new regional roads if $600 million worth of infrastructure funding is available. More Winnipeggers would benefit from extending William Clement Parkway or Chief Peguis Trail, he said.
"People have talked about completing the ring road in Winnipeg for 35 years and for whatever reason, we haven't done it," said Fielding, a fiscal conservative mulling a 2014 mayoral run.
Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, council's most vocal rapid-transit proponent, said Winnipeg has waited long enough.
"It's pretty startling when you think about how long this project has been on the books," said Gerbasi, referring to the project's inception in 1976. "We are way behind other major cities in investing in rapid transit."
Many transit passengers agree. Only metres away from Katz and Selinger's press conference, West St. Paul resident Justin Fekete, waiting at Osborne Station, was skeptical when told the Southwest Transitway would be completed in 2019.
"I'll probably have graduated by that time," said the U of M student. "I'll probably be dead, too."