Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The wheels on the bus go round and round

Get on with existing bus plan, say feds, province

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Mayor Sam Katz wants Winnipeg to have a network of light-rail lines, but the provincial and federal governments would prefer to see the city focus on its existing bus rapid-transit plan.

In an interview late last week, Katz said he wants to fly to Ottawa with Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and persuade the Conservative government to become partners in a rapid-transit network that would see at least four light-rail routes extend across the city.

"I'm hoping to get the premier to go with me to Ottawa and basically talk to the powers that be about a long-term plan for LRT (light-rail transit) for the City of Winnipeg, so we're just like Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa," Katz said.

The cost of such a network would exceed the $600-million request Katz made of Ottawa in January 2009. The precise routes would be determined by a transportation study that's currently being prepared by city planners, the mayor said.

He surmised "north, south, east, west" routes are likely, but the planners' opinions -- as well as the pool of available money -- will determine the layout of the actual network.

"I'll let the experts decide what makes sense," he said. "If there was a bottomless pool of money, I'd like to see the airport included."

Winnipeg's current rapid-transit plan only involves the construction of the first phase of the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor, a 3.6-kilometre busway that will extend from Queen Elizabeth Way near The Forks to Jubilee Avenue near Pembina Highway.

Construction on the $138-million project, which will include a new bridge over Osborne Street and a tunnel below the CN Fort Rouge Yards, began last year and is slated to be completed in 2011.

No funding is in place for the second phase of the southwest corridor, a six-kilometre busway that would extend south along Pembina Highway to Bison Drive near the University of Manitoba.

In September 2008, when the city and province announced the bus corridor, the city and province committed to spending $189 million to complete the second phase, with construction slated to begin in 2012.

But money for Phase 2 does not appear in Winnipeg's capital budget forecast, a spending blueprint for major construction plans.

Katz has said he did not want to pressure other levels of government into funding the rest of the bus corridor.

But Manitoba Infrastructure Minister Steve Ashton said the province does not need to be convinced -- it's already agreed to provide some of the cash.

"We don't need to be pressured on Phase 2 of rapid transit. That's been our position since 2008. Our financial position is clear," Ashton said in an interview.

"This was not a theoretical Phase 2. It was costed out and it came with a timetable."

Ashton suggested light rail will have to wait until the city completes the southwest bus corridor.

"If we want to move ahead on other projects, it depends on finishing Phase 2," he said. "Over the next 10, 20 or 30 years, there may be discussions about light rail."

Senior Manitoba MP Vic Toews said Ottawa stands with the province. The city has changed the nature of its funding requests for rapid transit, both in terms of the mode of transportation and the location of the route, Toews said in an interview.

"The focus of the discussion has changed from time to time, not at our behest," Toews said.

"Any delays that may have occurred are as a result of a change in focus of the request.

"We're not dragging our heels on this. We want something to happen," said Toews.

Over the past 14 months, Katz and senior city officials have mused about leapfrogging over bus rapid transit to light-rail transit. At one point, the plan involved an ultralight-rail "people-moving" network in downtown Winnipeg.

Representatives from train manufacturer Bombardier made a closed-door presentation to executive policy committee in August, said Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt, who was kicked off the committee the following month.

Wyatt accused the mayor of placing roadwork projects ahead of bus rapid transit in his funding requests to Manitoba and Ottawa, and accused Katz of allowing busway funding to slip away.

"Katz had to be dragged kicking and screaming to BRT. He never had any intention of doing the second phase," Wyatt charged.

Katz insisted he is not changing anything. He said he merely wants to get Selinger on the same rapid-transit track.

"If the mayor and premier aren't working side by side, this doesn't get off the ground," Katz said.

The city's other major infrastructure-funding requests include $110 million to widen Kenaston Boulevard in River Heights and $75 million to extend Chief Peguis Trail from Main Street to McPhillips Street.

 

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

The continuing (r)evolution of Mayor Sam Katz's rapid-transit policy:

 

2004

Shortly after being elected mayor, Sam Katz cancels former mayor Glen Murray's $50-million bus corridor plan, which did not involve an entirely separate corridor for buses.

 

2005

Katz convinces Canada's then-Liberal government to redirect $43 million in transit money toward recreation. He also strikes the Rapid Transit Task Force, led by then-rookie councillor Russ Wyatt. The task force eventually concludes the city can not afford light-rail transit.

 

2008

In March, the Conservative government in Ottawa announces Manitoba will receive $17.9 million for transit and hints Winnipeg will get most of the money. In September, Katz and former premier Gary Doer announce the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor, a 9.6-kilometre, $327-million busway connecting downtown to the University of Manitoba.

 

2009

Katz makes the first of several hints he'd still like to see light-rail transit instead of bus rapid transit. But construction begins on the first phase of the southwest corridor, a 3.6-kilometre, $138-million busway that will connect The Forks to Jubilee Avenue. Late in the year, money for the second, six-kilometre phase does not appear in the capital budget forecast.

 

2010

Katz says he wants to make a pitch to Ottawa to build a light-rail network that could cost more than $600 million. The federal and provincial governments say they would like to complete the southwest bus corridor.

 

-- Kives

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2010 B1

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