Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rapid transit lurches forward

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The plan for the second leg of the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor is the best choice available to the city, which faced the difficult task of developing a new thoroughfare along a route that is dense with development and obstacles.

The route from the Jubilee interchange west into the so-called Parker lands and then south along a Manitoba Hydro corridor to the University of Manitoba is not the fastest or most direct route, and it will not be as convenient for some businesses and residents along Pembina Highway.

But it is easier and cheaper to build because it will require far less expropriation of property, which would have been required if the route along Pembina had been chosen. It has the added benefit of being located near vacant lands that can easily be developed, which will increase the tax base and help contribute to the overall $350-million cost.

The indirect route will also help serve Transit routes in Waverley West, Fort Richmond, Richmond West and St. Norbert, resulting in greater overall flexibility for the bus rapid transit system that can operate on and off the dedicated busway. Cyclists will be happier, too, because space for a separate corridor for them along Pembina would have come at a premium.

Fewer road crossings also means buses will be able to travel at higher speeds, making it truly rapid.

Transit enthusiasts, however, should hold off before ordering the champagne. That's because the whole package is not a done deal.

It hinges on the federal government responding positively to a city request for $75 million in funding under the P3 (private-public partnership) program. Ottawa is expected to respond in six to eight months, but if funding is granted, it could come with strings, including an expectation that the private sector take on a larger ownership stake in the project.

The province claims it's on board for its third of the funding, ignoring the fact that the federal government won't provide one-third under the P3 program. That means the province and city should equally share the balance, or roughly $137 million each.

The funding battles still to come, however, don't change the fact that most of the money will probably be available. The province, like the city, is determined to finish the southwest corridor, a project that suits both their interests.

In a best-case scenario, construction will begin in two years and the corridor will open in 2018, completing the first phase of rapid transit in Winnipeg, decades after it was first touted as essential to the city's future.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 29, 2013 A6

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