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This article was published 14/10/2018 (468 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The underground concourse at Portage Avenue and Main Street was mostly quiet Saturday morning as rain fell across the city, aside from the barely audible drip-drop of water trickling through a small leak in the ceiling into a pair of buckets outside one of the businesses in Winnipeg Square.
While the leak was tiny and under control, the conversation about Portage and Main reached yet another head this weekend, as private landowners at the intersection revealed the dilapidated waterproofing membrane running above the concourse must be replaced, and that doing so would require the removal of all concrete and other structures at street-level.
A city-commissioned engineering report on the state of the underground concourse, the membrane, and other drainage infrastructure originally due Oct. 12 has yet to be released, leading mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk to accuse Mayor Brian Bowman of withholding information to influence voters.
"The mayor’s office is very clearly trying to withhold information from voters," Motkaluk said Saturday.
The city’s corporate communications office says the final report is not yet complete, and that SMS Engineering Ltd., the contracted firm, is still studying the concourse. "The dates listed in the critical stages section of the (request for proposal) were targets based on the date the city had originally anticipated awarding the contract." The corporate communications office said it’s expected the final report will be presented to City Council in 2019.
When reached Saturday, Bowman called Motkaluk’s statement "baseless" and an example of what he called a string of personal attacks and "old-school" politics that he didn’t appreciate.
"This has become a common trend with candidate Motkaluk," Bowman said. "The reality is this technical report hasn’t been finalized nor has it been provided to my office."
Later in the day, when informed that Bowman had yet to receive a report, Motkaluk took a different stance, saying that the lack of clarity surrounding the report was an example of Bowman "trying to confuse and muddle the issues." Bowman dismissed this suggestion as well.
Bowman and Motkaluk reiterated the question of pedestrians crossing and the repair of the concourse and membrane were separate issues, and agreed the current infrastructure was in dire need of upgrades.
"I don’t believe there’s anybody who thinks we should allow our infrastructure to crumble," Motkaluk said. "I think all Winnipeggers would appreciate it if we could start prioritizing the infrastructure that needs to be repaired."
"All you need to do is go on a walk in the underground to see that the infrastructure has been neglected (for 40 years)," Bowman said. The SMS report is intended to give future city councillors a better idea of what’s broken, regardless of the pedestrian referendum, he added.
"Repairing the existing infrastructure does not necessarily mean that we have to allow pedestrians to cross that road," Motkaluk said. "(What it means is) there’s an opportunity to ask a better question about what we want our iconic intersection in Winnipeg to look like."
"It doesn’t have to include crossing at street level," she added, echoing the sentiments of Coun. Jeff Browaty — who opposes pedestrian access at the intersection — that new, more aesthetically pleasing barricades could be built.
Bowman said before dealing with replacement barricades, it’s important to see how Winnipeggers vote on Oct. 24.
"Step one is we need to hear from Winnipeggers before we get into theoreticals like that," Bowman said Saturday. "Ultimately the question of pedestrians will be decided by the plebiscite," continued the mayor, who reiterated that he’d honour the referendum regardless of the outcome.
With less than two weeks to go until the election, Motkaluk said her reasons for opposing the opening of the intersection to pedestrians remain the same as the day she launched her campaign.
"I believe Winnipeg has more important things to do. It isn’t our top priority and we have spent entirely too much time and effort and money thinking about it, arguing about it, talking about it, considering the majority of Winnipeggers oppose the idea," she said.
"Ultimately, Winnipeggers will decide the outcome," Bowman said.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.