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Politicians spar over Plessis Underpass plan
Elmwood MLA Jim Maloway is continuing a push to keep Plessis Road open and in action.
Maloway, who was the MP for Elmwood-Transcona from 2008 to 2011, launched a flyer and website campaign called Keep Plessis Open that urges the City of Winnipeg to delay the construction of a $77 million underpass until a road is constructed so drivers can still cross the CNR Redditt line. The website features an image of Maloway pictured alongside Radisson MLA Bidhu Jha, whose constituency will host the underpass, and Transcona MLA Daryl Reid.
Jha said in an email July 12 he was not involved in the campaign, noting he is excited "for this long overdue project to begin soonest possible dates and completed as soon as possible".
Reid could not be reached by press time.
The current plan calls for the crossing to be closed from August until December 2014.
Maloway started the campaign with the federal Elmwood Transcona NDP Association after speaking to project manager Blake Kibbins about the possibility of a road at an open house on June 19. Maloway noted that in a followup email, Kibbins estimated the cost of the road itself to be between $1 million and $1.5 million, not including installing CN or City of Winnipeg signals.
Maloway said Kibbins also noted the impact on the schedule was more prohibitive than the cost. A request to speak to Kibbins was denied by a city spokesperson, noting inquiries should be directed to Coun. Russ Wyatt (Transcona).
"This road idea was kept from the public. It was never mentioned in any of the open houses," Maloway said.
Wyatt said when he spoke to Kibbins, the cost of installing a road and the amenities would be a multi-million dollar project, though the scheduling was a bigger issue than the cost.
At press time, Maloway said 90% of responses he had received were in favour of keeping the road open. When closed, the closest crossing of the tracks is on Bournais Drive, next to Bernie Wolfe Community School, though the city is discouraging that option. The city’s preferred options are the Lagimodiere Boulevard overpass and on Ravenhurst Street.
Maloway said he doesn’t know whether the campaign will ultimately be successful, pegging the odds at "50/50."
"I’m simply reflecting what people have been telling me for a long time," he said. "We’re not seeing any desire to affect a closure on this without exploring the option of building this road."
Maloway spearheaded a similar campaign to keep the Disraeli Overpass from closing during planned repairs to that infrastructure, which was ultimately successful.
A groundbreaking ceremony set for July 8 was abruptly scrapped the morning of the event, but Wyatt said the cancellation isn’t a big deal — it was "more for the cameras" than an indication of the state of the project.
Wyatt cited Premier Greg Selinger’s support for the project in the Legislature on July 10 as a sign the provincial government, which is contributing $25 million, was fully committed. Selinger was responding to concerns from Conservative MLA and local government critic Blaine Pedersen (Midland) about Maloway’s campaign and its effects on construction.
"The project is moving ahead as was originally planned," Wyatt said. "It was unfortunate that even though they had officially, over six months ago, signed off on the project, including the scope of work which involved the closure, that there was this last-minute problem."
Wyatt said preliminary work had already started before the delay, but the city was determined to keep moving with the project in order to meet the federal Building Canada deadlines for $25 million in funding.
Wyatt also wondered why Maloway was involved heavily in a project outside of his current constituency, as well as why the province didn’t raise any red flags earlier before signing off on the project.
Both Wyatt and Maloway also charged that the other hoped to score political points based on their respective stances.
Maloway’s website is available at www.keepplessisopen.ca.
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