The City of Winnipeg expects its plan to spend $152.1 million on road renewal next year will assist the local economy in its recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
City council’s preliminary budget argues construction for local and regional roads would help reduce the city’s infrastructure deficit, create jobs and support commerce, pending the budget’s final council approval.
"(It) serves as an important economic driver during the COVID-19 pandemic. While certain private projects may be paused, this is an important time for us not to pause from those investments and continue supporting our economy through our regular and growing road program," said Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan), economic development committee chairman.
The roads investment would mark a $21.9-million increase from the $130.3 million spent on roads in 2020; two per cent of this year’s expected 2.33 per cent property tax increase is devoted to local and regional roads.
The city currently plans to spend $864 million on road renewal over the next six years, which it expects would boost Manitoba’s GDP by more than $451 million, create at least 4,500 person years of employment, and generate $51.4 million in provincial taxes.
This year’s spending would allow the city to renew 140 lane kilometres of roads and back lanes, according to a city news release. The funding is for work on several major routes, including sections of Portage Avenue, Henderson Highway, Pembina Highway and Lagimodiere Boulevard.
The president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association said the investment is essential to maintaining the foundation of Winnipeg’s economy.
"This is… the single largest asset that the public has invested in and that’s the transportation system, which allows people to move to jobs and (companies to) move products to market. It’s a fundamental basic civic service that we can’t neglect," said Chris Lorenc.
Without significant annual investments in roads, Lorenc said the city would risk increasing its infrastructure deficit. He said that would risk making city parks and recreation less accessible, while also potentially interfering with quick responses by police, fire and ambulance crews.
Loren Remillard, president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, said continued road investments show the city has committed to a long-term vision for its infrastructure and economy, funding he expects will pay off long after the pandemic ends.
"Historically, we’ve seen, in other economic downturns, one of the ways you can stimulate the economy is by making investments in infrastructure," said Remillard.
He stressed investment shouldn’t be cut to save money, even as Winnipeg Transit and other city services suffer a major financial hit from COVID-19.
"Our buses still need to have good roads to drive on. Our bike paths still need to be in good working shape for people to utilize them," said Remillard.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.
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