Mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk says Mayor Brian Bowman’s claim the City of Winnipeg will spend $116 million on road work this year is "smoke and mirrors."
During a Wednesday morning news conference in front of the Bank of Montreal building at the corner of Portage Avenue and Main Street, Motkaluk waved about a leaflet included in homeowners’ water and sewer bills that promotes road work that will be done this year.
"I don’t think Winnipeggers realize that $116 million that he’s talking about for road repair is an inflated figure," Motkaluk said. "It also includes $2 million to fund architectural and engineering design work to take down these barricades.
"So when the mayor is bragging that he’s spending record money on road repairs, some of that money isn’t going to repair our roads at all — it’s really going to consultants and engineers who are going to make traffic worse at one of our busiest intersections."
In fact, city council did approve a record amount of spending for road and sidewalk repair for 2018, but the $2 million referenced by Motkaluk for the Portage and Main project had been approved by council in October, and again in December when it approved the 2018 budget.
Motkaluk described the reopening of the intersection as Bowman’s vanity project, arguing no one in Winnipeg supports it.
"I’ve talked to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of Winnipeggers. I haven’t found anybody that tells me opening Portage and Main is our top priority. If the mayor can’t be trusted to give the public an honest figure when it comes to a few millions in road repair, it’s time to look more closely at his other statements on the issue," she said.
Motkaluk is one of seven individuals challenging Bowman for the mayor’s chair in the Oct. 24 civic election.
A spokesman for Bowman's re-election campaign said the mayor is committed to building a downtown and city that is safer and more accessible, but added the decision to proceed with the reopening has not been approved by council.
Prompted by a motion last week from Couns. Jeff Browaty and Janice Lukes, city council will vote on whether the opening should be put to voters in the form of a question on the Oct. 24 ballot as a non-binding referendum.
The intersection was closed to pedestrians in 1979, as part of a deal with developers and property owners on the intersection corners to construct the underground shopping concourse. Terms of the deal, which was struck in 1976, stipulated the intersection remain closed to pedestrians and all efforts made to redirect people to the underground.
But support to reopen the intersection to pedestrians has persisted. Bowman made it an issue four years ago, when he first ran for mayor, and has now received the formal support of all the corner property owners.
The city appears divided on the issue. Supporters say removing the barriers is essential to restoring human-scale activity to the area, connecting the various downtown neighbourhoods. Opponents have dismissed the idea as Bowman’s pet project, and say the move poses a serious safety threat and would worsen downtown traffic flows.
A poll by Probe Research a year ago found most Winnipeggers continue to oppose the removal of the concrete barriers: 53 per cent of respondents were strongly or moderately opposed to reopening the intersection, while 42 per cent were in support.
The poll noted support for reopening the intersection was strongest (61 per cent) among those aged 18 to 34 years, while opposition is strongest among those aged 55 and older (68 per cent).
Motkaluk said the election would be the best way to determine the issue.
"The only way that Winnipeggers can make sure this intersection stays the way it is, and for us to focus on our real priorities, is to elect me as mayor."
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 Tuesday, July 17, 2018 at 12:23 PM CDT: fixes typo
12:27 PM: Adds missing word, updates photos
5:39 PM: FInal version