Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Transitway-route skeptics will need more convincing

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Outside the bubble that encases city hall, there isn't a lot of faith in the way it makes big decisions.

This is not because Winnipeggers are cynical about municipal government, which of course they are. It's because of the events of 2012, which saw the folks at 510 Main St. float an unpopular plan to place a water park opposite the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, build a fire-paramedic station on property the city doesn't own and end the year under the cloud of an audit of real estate transactions.

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So when the city comes out and claims it makes more sense to complete the Southwest Transitway by running buses through undeveloped regions of Fort Garry, any politician who's paying attention should expect a fair degree of skepticism.

In January, Winnipeg Transit unveiled the final version of the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor Stage 2 Alignment Study, which, as expected, recommended the construction of a seven-kilometre bus corridor that would run through the Parker Lands of northwestern Fort Garry and along a Manitoba Hydro corridor.

The advantages of this dogleg route over a more direct, six-kilometre busway that would run parallel to Pembina Highway include fewer road crossings (four vs. nine), higher operating speeds (80 km/h vs. 60 km/h) and lower land-acquisition costs ($8 million vs. $41 million). Advantages of the more direct route include the need to build fewer bridges or underpasses (only one vs. four), better service to existing residential neighbourhoods and the opportunity to increase density along Pembina Highway.

What has emerged as a wild card in the debate is the city's claim there's more development potential along the empty dogleg -- the Hydro corridor and the Parker Lands, which developer Andrew Marquess acquired from the city in a 2009 land swap.

The city and province love this idea because new tax dollars could help repay the money both governments will need to borrow to finance most of the $350-million Southwest Transitway project. But transportation experts deem this a risky venture, while several city councillors and one of the city's largest property developers have gone on record stating there's more potential for new tax dollars along Pembina.

Even if the dogleg is the right way to go, it won't be easy to convince the public of the benefits. Winnipeg Transit was well aware of this after holding public meetings about the transitway alignment and conducting surveys.

"Many comments expressed suspicion about a perceived real estate angle that might be driving, or at least influencing, the Southwest Transitway alignment discussion," the transitway report contends.

The report also surmises this suspicion is "due to media attention to the city's real estate and development matters during the same time as the Southwest Transitway consultation program." Winnipeg Transit has taken the public's temperature, but there are no thermometers at city hall.

Concerns about the way Winnipeg has handled real estate have no bearing on the Southwest Transitway decision, Mayor Sam Katz said Wednesday. "I don't think that relates in any way, shape or form," said the mayor, who also questioned Winnipeg Transit's contention the city may need to reacquire some of the Parker Lands from Marquess.

"I'll wait to find out if that's actually going to happen," he said.

Katz went on to suggest no city official responsible for the Parker Lands swap in July 2009 knew about the transitway alignment.

But that's not the case, as chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl, then the city's property director, spoke openly about extending Sterling Lyon Parkway and a rapid-transit spur line through the Parker Lands earlier that year.

Again, the dogleg may turn out to be the best way to complete the transitway. But given the skepticism, the city has to do a better job of demonstrating the costs and benefits, above and beyond vague ideas about incremental tax dollars that might flow from future developments.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 28, 2013 B2

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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