WEATHER ALERT

Need more congestion? Route 90 plan is the $500-M ticket

Other cities have learned that bigger roads attract more vehicles; there are far better places to spend that money to improve Winnipeggers’ lives

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The projected cost of the city’s plan to widen Route 90 is equivalent to a 6.9 per cent property tax increase for every Winnipeg homeowner. It will take 30 years for Winnipeg taxpayers to pay off the new road, and in the long run, traffic congestion will get worse.

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Opinion

The projected cost of the city’s plan to widen Route 90 is equivalent to a 6.9 per cent property tax increase for every Winnipeg homeowner. It will take 30 years for Winnipeg taxpayers to pay off the new road, and in the long run, traffic congestion will get worse.

The City of Winnipeg is currently asking for public feedback on a new design for widening Kenaston Boulevard between Ness and Taylor avenues, including related sewer upgrades and an expansion of the St. James Bridge. The city is hoping that other levels of government will share the cost, but Ottawa has already rejected applications twice before, in 2015 and 2018, and the province’s Multi-Year Infrastructure Investment Strategy makes no mention of the project. This likely leaves Winnipeg taxpayers to foot the bill on their own.

The cost of widening Kenaston is typically reported to be $500 million, but a 2019 city document, Unfunded Major Capital Projects Detail, provides a more accurate picture of the total costs. Using the $500 million construction value, it projects that when borrowing and operating costs are included, the project will require annual payments of $38.7 million, (6.9 per cent of the city’s operating budget) amortized over 30 years.

CITY OF WINNIPEG

The projected cost of the city’s plan to widen Route 90 is equivalent to a 6.9 per cent property tax increase for every Winnipeg homeowner.

This represents a true project cost of $1.2 billion, and is predicated on construction values not increasing further, having already risen steadily from $129 million in 2009, to $375 million in 2015 and $450 million in 2018.

The formula’s operating costs include projected increases in maintenance required for the larger infrastructure. For 20 years, the city has earmarked $100,000 annually for the maintenance of Kenaston Boulevard. The state of the road is evidence of how woefully inadequate that number is, but it’s also evidence of how strained our city’s finances are. The application to the Building Canada Fund in 2015 revealed that additional operating and maintenance costs for an enlarged roadway were projected to be $1.9 million per year, a significant addition to the city’s already stretched road-maintenance budgets.

The costs are staggering, but Kenaston is congested and many people believe that needs to be addressed. This is the other bit of bad news found in the city’s reports. The 2023 Route 90 Improvements Study indicates that even after increasing road capacity, traffic congestion will eventually be greater than it is today. The study projects that over several years, driving times between Ness and Taylor will increase to 8.7 minutes in the morning peak and 9.2 minutes in the evening peak, compared with eight minutes and 7.2 minutes today, respectively. The study predicts that if we don’t enlarge the road, those times will increase by several minutes, but this might be challenged, because despite significant growth in south Winnipeg, the number of cars travelling on Kenaston every day (measured at the bridge) hasn’t increased since 1995. People find alternate routes.

The traffic study seems counterintuitive, but it reflects something many cities have already learned. You can’t build your way out of congestion. A bigger road always attracts more cars, eventually consuming any additional capacity.

This concept is known as “induced demand.” The increased capacity of bigger roads will immediately reduce commuting times. To take advantage of the higher capacity network, drivers divert from different routes, are less strategic with the times they travel and are less likely to use public transportation or carpooling. All of this increases the number of vehicles on the new road. Greater convenience also results in more people willing to commute longer distances, incentivizing suburban sprawl, increasing car dependency and further increasing traffic volumes.

Almost invariably, within a few years of a road expansion, traffic congestion begins to return and, as the Route 90 study demonstrates, may get worse than it was before.

This large increase in the number of vehicles on Kenaston will also have important impacts on surrounding neighbourhoods, pushing significantly more traffic to adjacent feeder streets such as Academy Road and Corydon Avenue. The design carves a vehicle canyon, lined with concrete acoustic walls, through existing mature neighbourhoods. Large intersections will decrease walkability and pedestrian safety, reducing connectivity between neighbourhoods, and inhibiting any ability for the future development on the former Kapyong Barracks land to integrate with surrounding communities.

It’s often suggested that enlarging Kenaston will generate economic growth as a long-haul trucking route that opens new international trade opportunities, but without a marked long-term improvement in congestion, it’s unclear why a road through residential neighbourhoods would inspire new trade and commerce.

Currently, only four per cent of vehicles on Kenaston are large trucks, and the road’s role as a trade route was significantly diminished when the CN Intermodal Terminal moved to Symington Yards, replaced by the outlet mall. Provincial investments in CentrePort Canada Way and the Perimeter Highway are more appropriate catalysts to this growth.

With all of Winnipeg’s post-pandemic challenges, widening a single road may not be the best way to spend such a staggering amount of money. There are so many more impactful quality-of-life improvements that could be made. We could invest in the tree canopy, neighbourhood parks and community centres. For that same money, we could build 7,000 new affordable homes as an impactful way to address homelessness and poverty. Winnipeg’s full 25-year rapid transit plan connecting the entire city — an investment that might actually reduce congestion — could be built for the same projected cost. We could even just fix the pothole-blighted roads we already have.

As we evaluate widening Kenaston, we should remember that we are not making a choice just for ourselves. Our children and grandchildren will be paying for it as well, and we should ask ourselves if they will believe we spent their money wisely.

Brent Bellamy is senior design architect for Number Ten Architectural Group.

Brent Bellamy

Brent Bellamy
Columnist

Brent Bellamy is senior design architect for Number Ten Architectural Group.

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