Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

What a difference 52 years make

Upgraded Disraeli Freeway reopens on time and on budget

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Fifty-two years ago Friday, the Disraeli Freeway fully opened to cars, solving a decade-old problem of nightmarish rush-hour traffic jams in postwar Winnipeg and ending a long-standing feud between the city and province over who'd pay for it.

Cutting the ribbon that day in 1960 were Mayor Stephen Juba and Gurney Evans, minister of industry and commerce for the provincial government. Juba and Premier Duff Roblin had opened the bridge a year earlier, in 1959. The total bill back then for the new bridge over the Red River and Canadian Pacific mainline and the connecting access road to Main Street was $5.5 million. The province kicked in $3.250 million, the municipality of East Kildonan added about $92,000 and Winnipeg's share was $2.5 million.

Speed ahead 52 years. Present on almost the same spot were as Juba and Evans on Friday were Premier Greg Selinger, MP Steven Fletcher, Minister of State (Transport) and Mayor Sam Katz.

They officially reopened the reconfigured Disraeli Bridge and freeway, boasting the $195-million upgrade had come in on time and on budget.

Work on the new Disraeli bridges began in January 2010 as a public-private partnership. The new bridges have a design life of 75 years.

With growth in the northeast part of the city, "... about 42,000 vehicles a day are going over those bridges, so it needed to be upgraded and strengthened," Premier Greg Selinger said Friday. "It will also be a smoother and safer traffic flow."

The project involves two kilometres of new, re-aligned roads for the Disraeli Freeway between Main Street and Hespeler Avenue, and new bridge structures over the Red River and CP rail line.

Work continues on a separate pedestrian and bike bridge using the existing piers from the old Disraeli Bridge structure. It's expected to open in the fall of 2013.

The original bridge was put on the drawing board decades ago and finally put on the front burner in the early 1950s as the city grew outwards following the Second World War and the automobile took over on city streets.

But construction was delayed almost a decade as city hall under Juba locked horns with the province under then-premier Douglas Campbell over how much money the province should kick in for its construction. Taxpayers were also loath to approve a move to borrow the money for the project and it took three referendums to finally get approval.

"The freeway has never, in fact, been a sectional matter," the Free Press said at the time. "Each of us lives in a city -- or, more exactly, in a metropolitan area -- not in one little sector of the area and its total well-being is of vital concern to everyone. As citizens and taxpayers of Winnipeg, we are directly affected, economically and socially, if downtown Winnipeg suffers from increasing congestion."

The election of Duff Roblin as premier in 1958 also helped. "Roblin came along and he wanted to do all kinds of stuff," Selinger said. "What happened then and today is that it shows that over the decades governments can get together to get stuff done when it matters."

The new bridge's $195-million construction cost is being financed in part through a public-private partnership (P3) funding arrangement, with $18.3 million provided by Ottawa through the Gas Tax Fund. Plenary Roads Winnipeg is the private consortium that designed, built, financed and will maintain the roadway over the next 30 years.

In return, the City of Winnipeg will make a commissioning payment and then annual performance-based service payments to Plenary Roads Winnipeg. Additional funding of $53.3 million was provided by the province.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 20, 2012 A4

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