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'Mad as hell' about potholes

Roads, sewers top concerns for residents, poll finds

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Roads, sewers top concerns for residents, poll finds.

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Roads, sewers top concerns for residents, poll finds.

Winnipeggers are really, really cheesed about potholes.

That's the upshot of some stark new figures revealed by the latest Probe Research/Winnipeg Free Press poll that asked city residents to name their most pressing issues.

More than 60 per cent of those polled picked infrastructure -- no surprise following a bleak winter of frozen pipes, water-main breaks, spotty snow removal and now apocalyptic roads.

Last summer, for the first time in years, infrastructure edged out crime as Winnipeg's chief worry. More than a third of those polled said things such as road repaving, sewer repair and bridge work were top of mind.

Now, after three months, 2,451 frozen pipes and countless potholes, that figure has nearly doubled, to 61 per cent from 35 per cent.

Though the city's infrastructure woes have been a problem for decades, Manitoba Heavy Construction Association president Chris Lorenc said he thinks citizens have reached a tipping point.

"It's like Popeye -- 'That's all I can stands and I can't stands no more,' " said Lorenc. "Or that movie (Network) -- 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore.' "

Already, basic infrastructure threatens to dominate this fall's civic election. St. James Coun. Scott Fielding, expected to make a bid for mayor, said late last month $600 million earmarked for the second phase of the bus rapid transit corridor ought to be spent on roads instead. He launched a petition to that effect that has so far gathered 2,220 signatures, though other councillors and some local transit advocates have balked at the idea.

Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce vice-president of policy and public affairs Loren Remillard said he's not surprised by the poll's results, given the challenges of the winter. But Remillard said he hopes the civic election won't be dominated by potholes and water pipes alone.

"These are the discussions we need to have, but we need to elevate our thinking," said Remillard. "We need more than short-term fixes."

Probe's Curtis Brown said there's a remarkable gap between Winnipeg and the rest of the province when it comes to infrastructure as a top-of-mind issue.

Only 16 per cent of rural residents picked infrastructure as their key issue. At 23 per cent, jobs and the economy topped the list outside the Perimeter Highway.

Brown said he expects the Winnipeg infrastructure number to slip a little as the good weather arrives, memories of the winter fade and the pothole patchers make progress.

But Lorenc believes anger over the state of civic infrastructure will remain red-hot.

"People come to Winnipeg for the Junos, for the CFL, for the NHL. They're going to come in the thousands to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. And they'll leave wondering 'What is it with this city that the streets are war-torn?' " said Lorenc. "I am embarrassed for this city."

Lorenc said voters will be looking to any mayoral candidate for a long-term plan for the city's transportation infrastructure that focuses on regional roads first -- the ones that get the most wear and are vital for economic development. Voters will also be looking for innovation, new techniques that help roads last longer. And they'll be looking for a transparent and accountable allocation of funds.

Lorenc said that does not mean diverting money meant for transit and spending it on roads. To grow and densify, Winnipeg also needs a mature and competitive public transit system, he said.

"It's not a case of either/or," he said.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2014 A4

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