Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Transitway plan hits roadblock

Funding dispute between city and province threatens route

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The completion of the Southwest Transitway is "in jeopardy" due to city-provincial squabbling over the financial responsibility for a $350-million extension of Winnipeg's first busway.

In what appears to be a game of political brinksmanship in the wake of the provincial budget, the two sides continue to bicker over a $21-million transit funding gap -- as well as which level of government will borrow the bulk of the cash for the project.

Earlier this year, city council approved a plan to extend the Southwest Transitway from Jubilee Avenue to the University of Manitoba by spending $1 million on design work this year, socking away $10 million next year and then borrowing $127.5 million.

The city has asked the province to match its $137.5-million core commitment and expects Ottawa to spend $75 million on the project. The province, however, has committed to covering a third of project, which works out to $116.7 million, plus $1 million worth of funding for design work this year.

The province has sought federal approval for a funding deal that only covers a third of the cost, Mayor Sam Katz said Tuesday, claiming that move makes him question whether the Selinger government is serious about the project.

"The question is, is rapid transit in jeopardy? Yes it is," Katz said. "Is the provincial government serious and truly committed to rapid transit? Or are they just paying lip service to the idea?"

Katz also claimed the Selinger government is upset the city will not borrow money for the project on behalf of the province. When the two sides borrowed a combined $90 million to pay for the $138-million first phase of the Southwest Transitway, the city borrowed the province's $45-million share on Broadway's behalf.

"We made it clear that's something we are not willing to do again," Katz said.

The 2013 provincial budget includes $5 million for completing the corridor as well as $1 million in design work. An additional $5 million will come from the 2014 budget to match the city's $10-million contribution next year, Premier Greg Selinger's spokesman Matt Williamson said last week.

The province did not respond to the city's claims about borrowing, but a spokeswoman for Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux rejected Katz's assertion Broadway is playing games.

"We would be very disappointed to see the city abandon rapid transit as a priority. Our funding commitment of cost-sharing one-third is on the table, always has been, and was even in the throne speech," Naline Rampersad said in a statement.

The transitway funding dispute has been brewing since 2009, only months after Katz and former premier Gary Doer agreed to fund the first phase, which opened in 2012. During that time, the mayor has taken a variety of positions, prompting the province to repeatedly question his commitment to rapid transit.

Katz's reciprocal accusation comes at a time when the province is taking flak for a plan to raise the provincial sales tax to eight per cent -- as well as municipal anger over having no say in how the resulting funds will be spent.

The mayor nonetheless rejected the assertion he's threatening to withdraw his support for completing the transitway in order to achieve a better funding deal from the province.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 24, 2013 B1

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Updated on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 6:47 AM CDT: replaces photo

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