The massive Marion Street widening and underpass project appears doomed but councillors delayed making it official until they determine their next step in fixing the thoroughfare.
The public works committee Monday postponed any decision on the project for 60 days, until they can sort out with the administration how they can restart a public consultation process that area residents can support.
Earlier in the day, more than a dozen residents attended the committee meeting to state their opposition to the plan and vent their frustration, anger and disappointment with the public consultation process surrounding the plan.
"When I learned about this project, I was literally in shock," said resident Christine Trickey. "Many residents expected some improvement but nothing near this size and scope."
Trickey said the consulting firm on the project, MMM Group, said the only residents it contacted about the project were those that were targeted for expropriation.
Resident Sandra Dupuis presented the committee with a petition with signatures from more than 3,700 area residents opposed to the project.
"It’s not the idea of change that’s the problem, it’s the thinking that progress for progress’s sake is automatically a good thing," Michelle Berger told the committee. "We residents would like to be informed, we’d like to be included and we’d like to have some input, if possible."
The project involved realigning and widening of Marion from Youville Street to Dawson Road; a massive cloverleaf interchange at Marion and Archibald; a rail line underpass; cutting off westbound Marion at Dawson and realigning traffic onto Panet Road and Dugald Road. It would have required the destruction of two neighbourhoods with the expropriation and demolition of 141 properties, including a Sikh temple and a neighbourhood park.
Councillors on the committee were sympathetic to what the residents had been through.
"I want to apologize for the horrible consultation process," committee chairwoman Coun. Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) told the residents.
An administrative report had recently recommended against proceeding with the plan as proposed, concluding the city couldn’t afford the work, and proposed a smaller scale project that didn’t involve road widening or a grade separation for the rail line. However, the public works department wanted to rehire the same consulting firm to do more community consultation on various options for the scaled-down project – which the residents opposed.
Lukes said she wasn’t ready to restart the project with the same consulting firm, preferring to delay the planning process by putting the consulting contract out to tender.
"We’re failing on consultation," Lukes said. "I think we’re just failing on how we engage the public."
Public works director Lester Deane said he was prepared to bring the department’s consultation plan back to the committee for approval before it’s send out for bids.
Coun. Shawn Dobson (St. Charles) said the committee needed more time to gather additional information before taking the next step.
"To make that decision today, with the information we have, is incorrect," Dobson said, who moved the motion to put the matter over for 60 days.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.
Updated on Monday, September 19, 2016 at 6:42 PM CDT: fixed cutline