Ever since Leonard Asper made his comments about the condition of the route from the airport to the downtown more than 10 years ago, hundreds -- if not thousands -- have pressed for action on this priority to ensure we put our best foot forward as a community.
With the beautiful new world-class Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport and the upcoming opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the time could not be better for us to beautify one of Winnipeg's most-travelled roads and show the strength of our newly invigorated pride in our city.
When the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce first started looking at potential solutions we realized there were a number of routes visitors took from the airport to the downtown. Route 90 was selected as the route with the best opportunity for positive image reinforcement, if not for the chain link-enclosed stretch between St. Matthews and Ness avenues. It is this stretch that has been identified time and time again as the one that needs a complete makeover. The chamber began pulling a group of volunteers and stakeholders together to identify a project under the working title Chamber Way.
Multiple ideas, suggestions and proposals were put forward and all of them were turned down by the city's public works department for a variety of reasons. The narrow width of the city-owned property must comply with new regulations regarding the distance required between barriers and the roadway, there is significant underground sewer infrastructure preventing a fence of any significant weight, an overhead hydro line would cost $2.2 million to bury, and there are limited options for vegetation that can survive along the route due to the salt and sand that sprays from the high-speed traffic.
We even suggested to just focus on the median and create something impressive. It became obvious public works would have to come forward with a proposed fence they would be able to approve. Through the support of the mayor and Coun. Dan Vandal we were able to get a directive to public works to figure out what the city can do. That proposal was made to a city committee this week.
The project consists of four phases and it all begins with replacing the current chain-link fence with a new fence that is more appealing. The second phase is landscaping. There are limited options but adding some greenery along the route is a must. The third phase is lighting, and we have had very productive discussions with Manitoba Hydro to identify options that could provide decorative light standards with enhanced lighting, both from above and below. The last phase is a banner program. With new light standards that can accommodate banners and public art we could showcase the most impressive elements that define our city, and change these banners during special events.
Seven million dollars is a lot of money, which is why the chamber is reaching across all spectrums to work together to find solutions. Consultation with residents and businesses is critical, but before that consultation can begin we need something to consult on. A positive result would be for city council to approve a fence and landscaping in principle and work with the chamber to approach the other levels of government, Manitoba Hydro, the private sector and residents to turn this neglected route into a showcase that works for all stakeholders, including and especially the residents.
The working title of the project is Chamber Way, but this is a Winnipeg project. Wouldn't this be a great opportunity to name this redeveloped route after a noted Winnipeg champion? We need to consider lack of action unacceptable. Winnipeg has the opportunity to be a place where best practices are born. Now is not the time to settle for being "like everyone else" -- let's lead the pack and continue to encourage and inspire.
In a speech to the Winnipeg chamber a few years ago, Gail Asper declared proudly that "company's coming." At a time when forward-thinking developments continue to reinvent our city, her passionate plea to all of us to take care of our home and invest strategically in projects that will beautify Winnipeg still resonates. This route is one of those projects that can leave a lasting positive impression for our visitors and be something all Winnipeggers can take pride in.
Dave Angus is president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.