Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Transit politics wasteful

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The latest rabbit the city has pulled out of its transit-plan hat is a $250-million boost to its southwest corridor project, which means negotiating greater cost sharing with the province, its prospective partner. The city's sudden decision to expand the scope and cost of the southwest transitway illustrates the argument for an arm's-length transit authority, a professional planning body that can command the ear and respect of both levels of government.

At present, the city's transit department seems to lurch from the latest proposals to the next, serving the whims of municipal politicians, and specifically a mayor who has revealed over the last 10 years that he doesn't know his own mind on how best to serve Winnipeg's future transportation needs. Mayor Sam Katz came to office in 2004, and quickly dismissed his predecessor's vision of a rapid transit line from downtown to the city's southern reach. He then found the wisdom of the project, but has gone back and forth on its form, wavering in support for bus or rail transport.

And now, having completed a mere 3.6 kilometres of a bus rapid transit route from near the Forks to Jubilee Avenue, the remaining speed lane to Fort Garry is stalled, and the city is mired in dispute with the province over its share of the cost. The price tag of the next phase has risen from $189 million to $350 million and this week, the province got word the total cost of the route, with its expanded infrastructure scope -- including a new bridge across Pembina Highway and a reconstructed underpass -- will be $600 million. The explanation is that the city wants to get everything that will, eventually, need to be done completed within the transitway project so as to cause the least disruption.

The logic is evident, but that is the kind of planning that should have been done in the route's first iteration. As the city jockeys to extract the most money it can out of its federal and provincial funding partners, the price tag rises.

A transit authority would allow for a rational, methodical approach to mapping out a transportation vision for Winnipeg, and perhaps the capital region. It could fix options to the funding programs available, producing reliable numbers less likely to be manipulated for political gain.

Premier Greg Selinger this week said he is keen on seeing the creation of such an authority. The city, which years ago allotted $1.5 million to study the prospect, should get on with the idea. The bickering, confusion and escalating costs of the southwest transit corridor make a good case for depoliticizing transportation planning.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2013 A16

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