Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie wants the city to explore using tolls to fund its growing list of roadway expansion plans, but he faces a potholed path in convincing his political counterparts to join the ride.
Standing at the foot of the Chief Peguis Trail at Main Street last week, Eadie said Winnipeg is running out of ways to fund its freeway plans, which include extending Chief Peguis west to Route 90 by 2016 to the tune of an estimated $240 million.
"We don’t have enough money to build all these roads," Eadie said.
In April 2012, city council voted to overrule the city’s transportation master plan, which called for Chief Peguis to be extended west in two phases – first to McPhillips Street by 2021 at a cost of $110 million, and further to Route 90 by 2031 at a cost of $130 million.
Eadie says the city will likely have to revise those plans, but maintains the extensions are needed for trade in and out of CentrePort, and for moving people in and out of the city’s rapidly-spawning suburbs. They will alleviate traffic problems on Leila Avenue and other surrounding residential streets, he added.
Eadie wants tolls, whether they are controlled by the city or a private group, to be on the table when planning next year’s budget.
"The reality is we're going to have to rationalize (our needs) in the next budget process," he said, noting he has yet to speak with other councillors or put a formal motion forth on the issue.
"We need to find a way to pay for this, and if it doesn’t happen, we’ll only able to afford to put Chief Peguis to McPhillips and leave further west to a later time until we find more money."
The city has been hampered in funding its infrastructure needs in part by a 14-year property tax freeze, which ended last year, while its repeated calls for the province to divert a greater portion of the provincial sales tax to municipal infrastructure have been largely ignored.
Those calls were amplified last month when the NDP government announced a 1% hike to the PST it wants to take effect July 1.
Though the majority of PST revenue is generated in Winnipeg, the city will only receive about $7 million of some $300 million of new revenues the hike is expected to generate each year, Eadie said.
"What alternatives do we have?" Eadie said.
"We cannot continue to borrow lots of money unless we have a revenue source to pay for it."
The province, however, was quick to stymy Eadie’s call.
According to a provincial spokesperson, municipalities would need legislative authority from the province to put a toll on any municipal or provincial road. No such legislation exists.
A spokesperson for Manitoba Infrastructure Minister Steve Ashton said the province is not considering such legislation, but would not elaborate further.
Toll talk a distraction, Wyatt charges
Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt, who chairs council’s finance committee and is responsible for budgetary planning, said Eadie is creating a distraction for the NDP, with which Eadie is affiliated.
"We’ve been lobbying for (an increased share of) the sales tax that (the NDP has) now increased and have dedicated hardly any of it to the infrastructure of our city," Wyatt said.
"It’s a great distraction on his part, but I don’t buy it."
Sharma mum on support; Katz wants details
In March 2012, Old Kildonan Coun. Devi Sharma introduced a motion calling for the Chief Peguis extension, along with a $60 million extension of the William Clement Parkway in Charleswood, to be completed sooner than planned.
Sharma said the funding should have been on the books before she was elected in 2010. Sharma said the city needs to find the money to pay for the project but wouldn’t say whether or not she supported using tolls to cover the costs.
"It’s too early to decide what the revenue opportunities are," she said.
Mayor Sam Katz said the idea of tolls have been a regular discussion at city hall.
"Whenever you have that discussion, I think you have to be very careful," said Katz.
"If you’re talking about new construction where people can get from point A to point B much quicker by going that route and paying that toll and have a choice, it’s something that every councillor has the right to put on the table.
"I’d like to hear the particulars first," Katz added.
"I’m assuming I’ll be hearing something in the near future."
Over the last several years, the city has increasingly relied on public-private partnerships for multi-million dollar road projects — such as the the Chief Peguis extension to Lagimodiere Boulevard — where the roads are designed, built and maintained by a private consortium to which the city makes annual lease payments.