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A previously unreleased report on the Portage Avenue and Main Street concourse recommends the City of Winnipeg spend millions to extend the life of the aging underground pedestrian network.

The 200-plus page "Portage & Main Underground Concourse Facility Condition Assessment," prepared by SMS Engineering Ltd. and submitted to the city in May 2019, details extensive issues with the 40-year-old concourse, including the need to replace the failed waterproof membrane below the iconic intersection’s surface.

The 200-plus page report details extensive issues with the 40-year-old concourse.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The 200-plus page report details extensive issues with the 40-year-old concourse.

According to the report — a redacted version of which was obtained by the Winnipeg Free Press through a freedom of information request — the membrane meant to stop water from spilling into the underground "easily cracked and tore within itself under minimal bending" during an inspection, and is "easily removed" from the concrete deck by hand.

"Evidence of moisture was also observed between the membrane and concrete surface, indicating that water is circumventing the membrane," the authors of the report noted. "The presence of leakage indicates that the roof waterproofing is no longer functioning."

SMS Engineering was hired by the City of Winnipeg in August 2018 to evaluate the condition of the concourse, and draft a plan to modernize the facility and fix numerous problems identified by city officials.

According to the SMS report, it is recommended the membrane be replaced in the next five to 10 years.

"In the short term, we expect that the existing waterproofing will continue to provide adequate service for some period of time," the report reads. "However, its performance will continue to deteriorate, and greater instances of leakage will occur over the short term and accelerate over the long term.

"Although localized areas of leakage may be perceived by some as only a nuisance, there is a greater concern that the intrusion of moisture will result in deterioration of the concrete structure and damage interior finishes or building systems."

“Although localized areas of leakage may be perceived by some as only a nuisance, there is a greater concern that the intrusion of moisture will result in deterioration of the concrete structure and damage interior finishes or building systems.” – Portage & Main Underground Concourse Facility Condition Assessment

Replacing the membrane beneath Portage Avenue and Main Street will be a lengthy and extensive job, requiring the downtown intersection to be closed to traffic in phases, to allow for excavation of the pavement to access the protective asphalt barrier, according to the report.

The authors also caution against leaving the membrane as is, warning if left too long, steel reinforcing could corrode and make future repairs more difficult and "much more costly."

Portage and Main was the subject of debate in the months leading up to the 2018 civic election, after plans by city council to study opening the intersection to pedestrians became a ballot box question.

In a non-binding plebiscite, Winnipeggers ultimately decided to keep the intersection closed, with members of Team Open chalking up the loss to public concerns over costs and traffic.

During the campaign period, scant information was provided to the public regarding the condition of the concourse or how much taxpayers would ultimately have to pay to repair the downtown intersection in the future.

It was estimated, at the time, opening the intersection to pedestrians would require a $11.5-million investment.

However, during the campaign period, scant information was provided to the public regarding the condition of the concourse or how much taxpayers would ultimately have to pay to repair the downtown intersection in the future.

Jeremy Davis, press secretary for Mayor Brian Bowman, said the mayor was unavailable to comment due to COVID-19 response meetings Tuesday afternoon.

While the cost to modernize the concourse is difficult to determine due to the number of redacted items, the disclosed recommendations could add up to nearly $2.4 million, based on a Class 5 estimate (accuracy of minus-40 per cent to plus-80 per cent), according to the SMS report.

Structural issues in the foundation and skylights were observed throughout the concourse, and the report authors noted a number of deficiencies related to the Manitoba Building Code. The concourse by and large fails to comply with the city’s own Accessible Design Standards, the report adds.

According to the SMS report, it is recommended the membrane be replaced in the next five to 10 years.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

According to the SMS report, it is recommended the membrane be replaced in the next five to 10 years.

Estimated costs to replace the membrane have been redacted from the report, on the grounds it could harm the economic interests of the city and could prejudice or interfere with ongoing negotiations with its partners and stakeholders in the concourse.

Coun. Brian Mayes, chairman of the standing policy committee on property and development, heritage and downtown development, said Tuesday he had not seen the report and was unable to comment on its contents.

Mayes said he was also unfamiliar with work done by the Portage and Main Working Group, struck in 2017, and consisting of the city’s chief administrative officer, representatives of property owners at the intersection, and various city departments.

Mayes, who took over as chairman in November 2019, deferred questions on the report to the city CAO.

A request for an interview with interim CAO Michael Ruta was not accommodated Tuesday.

In an emailed statement late Tuesday, Winnipeg planning, property and development director John Kiernan said work to replace the waterproof membrane would happen "when major surface works are planned to renew/upgrade the intersection."

Some recommendations contained in the SMS report have already been completed, Kiernan noted, but more funding is required to address accessibility, structural and mechanical concerns.

An environmental site assessment is underway in anticipation of future construction, he said, and the city plans to issue a request for proposal that would bolster the department’s case for capital spending in the concourse.

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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