Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz has upped the ante in his dispute on rapid transit with the province by formally asking city staff to come up with a business case to develop a light-rail system.
The city is in the midst of building the first phase of the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor, a $137-million busway that will connect Queen Elizabeth Way near The Forks to Jubilee Avenue at Pembina Highway. All three levels of government are contributing to the 3.6-kilometre busway, which is slated to be finished in 2011.
But Katz does not want to proceed with the second phase of the busway, a six-kilometre extension to Bison Drive near the University of Manitoba. The province has offered at least $63 million toward the $220-million project, but the mayor wants to spend the funds on road and bridge projects instead.
Earlier this year, Katz called on Premier Greg Selinger to fly with him to Ottawa to lobby the Harper government to fund an LRT system. But the province has been cool to the idea.
Now, Katz wants city staff to compare the costs and benefits of building light-rail transit against those of bus rapid transit — and recommend prospective light-rail routes, technologies and funding options, including a strategy for obtaining money from the provincial and federal governments.
"If you're building a city for the future and you want to motivate people to come to the city and keep the people that are here, light rail is the way to accomplish this," Katz said Friday.
The mayor said it's a myth light rail transit costs six times more than busways. One kilometre of bus rapid transit costs approximately $38 million, he said, claiming light-rail transit at street level costs about $50 million per kilometre while elevated light-rail transit costs about $70 million per kilometre.
Katz plans to take his light-rail plan to executive policy committee on Wednesday and ask city staff to produce a report within 90 days, at a maximum cost of $100,000. That report would be given to council in July, in the midst of his re-election campaign.
"I hope this is a sincere effort by the mayor, and not just smoke and mirrors to try to fool the public prior to an election campaign," said Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt, who may run for mayor but is a distant third in the latest poll.
Katz said his LRT announcement has nothing to do with the election. He said the sooner the southwest corridor is converted from a busway to a railway, the cheaper the cost. He also wants to see an east-west rail route that connects downtown with Richardson International Airport.
Wyatt accused the mayor of allowing infrastructure funding to slip away while the city engages in yet another study. "This has been studied to death," St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal added.
A spokeswoman for the Selinger government, meanwhile, said the province believes completing the busway is the best way to introduce rapid transit to Winnipeg. The mayor has yet to contact the province about light rail, she added.
Senior Manitoba MP Vic Toews has said Ottawa stands with the Selinger government on rapid transit.
The city, however, is already in the midst of exploring LRT. Our Winnipeg, a $3.2-million effort to develop a new long-term planning framework for the city, includes a $1.15-million transportation study with a rapid-transit component.
Katz said he knew nothing about the content of the study.