Half-billion dollars rolls out for Transit upgrades
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Despite substantial delays that left millions of federal infrastructure dollars unspent for years, the Progressive Conservative government is being commended for finally getting on board a tri-level agreement to modernize Winnipeg Transit to the tune of $539 million.
As rapid transit buses rolled through Seel Station in Winnipeg’s Fort Garry neighbourhood Thursday morning, Premier Heather Stefanson said the province will spend nearly $170 million to purchase approximately 235 new buses, build a new Transit garage and implement planned changes to its network.
“These new infrastructure projects will help to reduce our carbon footprint while also promoting job growth and opportunities for Manitoba businesses,” Stefanson said at the announcement, flanked by Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and Manitoba Liberal MPs Terry Duguid and Kevin Lamoureux.
The three levels of government will spend a combined $539 million to buy 100 zero-emission buses and requisite infrastructure by 2027; purchase 135 new diesel buses during the transition to a zero-emission fleet; construct a new, LEED certified garage in the North End neighbourhood; conduct further design work to carry out the Winnipeg Transit Master Plan; replace 325 wheelchair securement devices on Transit vehicles; and upgrade radio hardware and equipment on buses.
The federal government’s share of the projects is $203.3 million, and the City of Winnipeg will contribute $135.2 million.
The money comes through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, a cost-sharing deal the PCs signed with federal Liberals in 2018.
Manitoba has been slow to access that cash, as former Tory premier Brian Pallister sought to constrain spending, and chafed against federal criteria Ottawa eventually loosened.
However, Stefanson has struck a different tone since taking office in November, federal and municipal leaders said Thursday.
Bowman said the project had been “stalled on the former premier’s desk” and praised Stefanson for being more active and sticking to a commitment to fund Transit improvements.
“You made on good on that and you delivered for Winnipeg,” he said. “After years of idling, we’re shifting to drive, and finally moving Winnipeg Transit forward in a transformative way.”
Duguid, member of Parliament for Winnipeg South, also thanked the premier for her approach.
“We’re all singing from the same song sheet,” Duguid said. “You have set a new tone, which I think is really making a difference.”
Lamoureux noted the Liberals’ last major transit announcement in Winnipeg, in February 2019, involved Ottawa signing a deal directly with the city, bypassing a reluctant province.
“When the different levels of government come together, we can really get things done,” said the Winnipeg North MP.
Stefanson, meanwhile, said her government is keen to collaborate with all levels of government to advance infrastructure projects, and is fully subscribed to the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program. An announcement is expected in the coming weeks under the infrastructure plan to complete upgrades of the north end Winnipeg sewage treatment plant.
While admitting it has been “too long” since she used Transit, Stefanson said the partnership between the three levels of government to enhance the capital city’s public network is one way to boost ridership, which has yet to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s working collaboratively with the City of Winnipeg to do that, and so if there are some ideas that people have, we’re certainly open to those ideas — because we all want the end goal that people are utilizing our transit system more,” the premier said. “It’s better for the environment, and so we’ll continue to work collaboratively with City of Winnipeg on various programs.”
However, Opposition environment critic Lisa Naylor said the Tories missed an opportunity for a “cleaner, healthier” province by supporting the purchase of new diesel buses.
“As Winnipeg grows the need for a safer, more reliable and cleaner public transit system grows as well,” Naylor said. “Yet, for six years, the PCs did nothing to improve transit infrastructure.”
And while the new Transit spending is a positive development, delays will likely mean inflation “is going to take a much bigger bite of this investment,” Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said. The province ought to also investigate the potential for relocating railways outside the city to use then-vacated tracks for a public commuter system, he said.
“If we really want to transform our city, we can go further than just a lot more of the same,” Lamont said.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg Transit manager of service development Bjorn Radstrom said Thursday’s announcement is the most significant funding commitment of his career.
“This is the first time we’ve ever done a complete redesign of the route network and it really is the basis for what Transit is going to look like for the next 100 years,” Radstrom said. “This, for me, is really the most exciting thing. I’m very happy today.”
— with files from Dylan Robertson
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.