The most encouraging news in the Capital Region's new master transportation plan is that Winnipeg and its 15 adjacent municipalities are actually talking and making plans for a shared future.
Behind the quarrels that have divided some of the municipalities in the past, local leaders have been meeting, planning and thinking about how to make the complicated business of inter-city co-operation function like a seamless web.
The other alternative was to contemplate amalgamation -- one big city -- but that's not on anyone's agenda. The province has made it clear it has no stomach for such a venture.
That means the 16 municipalities will have to figure out how to co-operate on transportation, transit, water and sewer, firefighting and land-use planning. Without such co-operation, there's a risk the region's competing interests would lead to a mishmash of conflicting rules and regulations.
The transportation plan itself envisions a series of road extensions, highway bypasses and 15 interchanges that could be necessary in the distant future if population and business continue to grow at their current rate, which could see the region expand from more than 767,000 people today to nearly one million in 2033.
That's a lot of growth to accommodate in a relatively short time frame, which is why proper planning is categorically imperative.
The transportation plan doesn't include a price-tag, which would easily be in the billions of dollars, but at this stage any cost estimate would be grossly misleading.
The important point is there is a plan. True, it's not written in law, but existing and future business owners need to know where road connections might be placed; municipalities need to know what parcels of land can be developed, and which parcels must be set aside for potential road work.
It would be impossible to plan for future growth in a large diverse region without knowing how all the parts could fit together.
The partners have also been discussing land-use planning, one of the most contentious issues in the region. Obviously you can't have a plan for a road network without a comparable plan for zoning. Where will heavy industry be located, which lands will remain agricultural, where will all the new residents live?
This kind of co-ordination requires a regional land-use planning framework, which the partners say they are committed to achieving, even though not much work seems to have been done.
A conflict between East St. Paul and Winnipeg over a potential Wal-Mart highlights the problem. The tax-rich development would have risen on land owned by East St. Paul, but residential streets in Winnipeg would have been affected. The dispute is still brewing.
The problem with master plans, however, is that they are only as good as the commitment to them. The City of Winnipeg has routinely amended its planning blueprints over the years whenever they became inconvenient, or got in the way of a new development.
Bishop Grandin Boulevard was originally envisioned as an inner ring road to speed traffic around the city. Still incomplete, its intended use was very quickly altered when developers started building retail outlets along its path, forcing the city to permit the construction of on and off ramps that were never part of the original plan.
The Capital Region transportation plan is still a distant dream that will probably be changed or be altered in the future, but at some point it will be necessary to lock in a final plan and stick to it.
Ad hoc development is never a good planning device. It's usually motivated by desperation for new development at any cost, rather than long-term planning principles.
With 70 per cent of the provincial GDP and two-thirds of its population, the capital region is the province's economic engine. Its growth and success, however, depends on a firm commitment to proper planning.