Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Here's an IKEA: Let's find money for traffic woes

MP says south-end pressures will grow

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OTTAWA -- When Winnipeg South Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge flew back to the city from Ottawa earlier this month, he figured he'd have an easy drive to his constituency.

It was a Thursday morning before the lunch hour and the weather was clear.

But as he made his way south along Route 90, he came to a dead stop.

"The traffic was backed up as if it were rush hour."

And Bruinooge says this is before the big blue traffic creator known as IKEA opens its doors, or the snazzy new stadium starts pulling Winnipeg football fans into the south end of the city. It is also before most of the 30,000 homes in Waverley West are even built.

"In my opinion, we do not have the infrastructure to support this growth," Bruinooge said.

He said the pressure to fix the problems will grow as people from all over the city start heading to the south end to shop and watch football. Before now, most people who drove to the south end did so because they lived there, said Bruinooge.

He said fixing the traffic-flow woes in south Winnipeg will need three things: an underpass at the Waverley Street rail crossing near Taylor Boulevard, extending the bus rapid transit system to the University of Manitoba and widening Kenaston Boulevard north of Taylor.

Bruinooge said the transit extension will take time to work out and the Kenaston widening is in limbo until the Treaty One challenge over the former Kapyong Barracks land is worked out.

The Waverley underpass, to end the bottlenecks caused when trains barrel through several times a day, is the most feasible to do now. A few years ago, the cost estimate was about $70 million. The recent Plessis Road underpass project was $77 million.

But finding that money isn't a simple exercise.

Canada's big-city mayors were in Ottawa last week, begging for more from the federal government.

They convened in the nation's capital seeking a commitment from the federal government for another $2.5 billion a year for municipal infrastructure. It would bring total federal spending on municipal infrastructure to $5.75 billion a year.

If matched by the provinces and the cities, as would be required, that means at least $17.25 billion a year to renew and create new roads, bridges and other municipal infrastructure.

In many ways, it couldn't have been a worse week for the mayors to make their pitch.

Last Monday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty delivered his fall economic update with bad news.

It will take at least another four years, until 2016, for Ottawa to balance its budget again. The deficit for the current year is going to be $5 billion more than forecast, and over the next four years it will be more than $20 billion more than Flaherty forecast.

So it wasn't likely any request for a big, new chunk of change from Ottawa was going to be met with anything but incredulity and a big, fat 'I don't think so.'

But Bruinooge is undeterred.

Transport Minister Denis Lebel is in the midst of working on the next federal infrastructure program. The current program doesn't expire until 2014, but its funds are all committed. However, Lebel is hoping to have a new program worked out by the end of next year so the new funds can start flowing to projects early in 2014. The last of the money aimed for Winnipeg went into the convention centre expansion ($180 million) and the Plessis Road underpass.

The Kenaston underpass was part of a federal infrastructure agreement in 2005.

Bruinooge is putting on pressure for the Waverley underpass to be part of the next one.

Katz said he has sat in that traffic snarl and knows how frustrating and harmful it is, but he said it's up to city bureaucrats to identify the priority list of infrastructure projects.

The province, which has jointly funded a study on the project with the city, puts the onus on the city to identify the underpass as a priority while cautioning repairs to the 80 bridges and more than 200 roads damaged in the 2011 flood are the province's infrastructure priority.

If Bruinooge has his way, the crush of Winnipeggers expected to descend on the new IKEA store in a few weeks will help drive the push for improved traffic flow in south Winnipeg, and a Waverley underpass will move to the top of the list.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 19, 2012 A6

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