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Transportation show must go on, and on

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/11/2011 (1951 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

While it may lack the visual appeal of Cats or Phantom of the Opera, the longest running show in Winnipeg is the rapid transit debate, which raged in Winnipeg since the days when Stephen Juba talked about monorails.

After many twists and turns, the saga appeared to be heading toward the end of its run two weeks ago, when rapid transit discussions between Mayor Sam Katz and Premier Greg Selinger were back on track.

But given the events of the past two days, the show may very well go on. In case you missed the last few acts, here's a brief plot synopsis since the entrance of the current players in the saga:

2004: Newly elected Mayor Sam Katz cancels a $50-million bus-corridor plan approved by former mayor Glen Murray and convinces Ottawa to redirect $43 million to recreation projects. This includes a $7-million subsidy for a private waterpark that has yet to be built.

2005: The Katz-appointed rapid transit task force determines Winnipeg should focus first on enhancing conventional bus transit and then build southwest and eastern rapid transit corridors. More than $140 million is eventually spent on a conventional transit upgrade that continues today with efforts to install new fare-collection boxes.

2008: After Ottawa offers Manitoba $17.9 million to improve transportation, Katz and then-premier Gary Doer announce plans for the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor, a busway connecting downtown and the University of Manitoba.

2009: Construction on the first phase of the busway, a 3.6-kilometre, $138-million link from The Forks to Jubilee Avenue, begins. The city and province borrow $90 million to pay for the route and expect to recoup some of the cash from new developments along the line. Late in the year, Katz declines to commit to a six-kilometre second phase as part of a wider dispute with the province over infrastructure funding.

2010: Katz announces plans to pursue light rail, claiming it is less expensive than previously thought. Although a pair of city commissioned transit studies recommends busway construction as a prelude to light rail, council approves a report that endorses light rail.

July 2011: As work on the first phase of the southwest corridor nears completion, the city reveals it's considering an L-shaped detour for the second phase that would veer away from Pembina Highway and into Fort Garry residential neighbourhoods. Katz says this potential route has more potential to spark new residential development -- and potentially some tax revenue to pay for this segment of the lane.

October 2011: The city releases its long-awaited Transportation Master Plan, which calls for the completion of four rapid transit routes by 2031. The plan pegs the cost of completing the southwest corridor as a busway at $275 million, while converting the entire route to light rail would cost $700 million. For the first time, Katz says he's amenable to completing the southwest corridor as a busway, at least at first. Premier Greg Selinger responds with equally conciliatory language.

November 2011: Behind the scenes, discussions resume about funding the second phase of the southwest corridor. But after Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi amends the Transportation Master Plan to include a hard target for completing the corridor, St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel complains there is no funding in place for the project. Swandel then launches a successful bid to have council approve a 25-cent transit hike in 2012 to pay for the corridor. The moves surprises Selinger.

2012: The first phase of the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor is scheduled to open on April 8. Eighteen transit routes will utilize the 3.6-kilometre corridor, which allows transit buses to bypass Osborne Village and Confusion Corner traffic.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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