The chairman of the city’s infrastructure renewal and public works committee says it’s time for Winnipeggers to either adjust their expectations when it comes to major capital projects or give council the green light to raise taxes.
Those comments came from Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface) following a marathon committee meeting Tuesday, where it became clear two projects slated for the North End – the Chief Peguis Trail extension and the Arlington Bridge replacement – are on a collision course for limited funding.
'Winnipeggers are expecting all of these projects to get built right away and we don't have the capacity… I think it's time to have the conversation about what can we actually afford and what we should actually be spending the money on if we are going to be making these massive investments'- Coun. Matt Allard
But Allard said it’s not only those two projects competing for what little wiggle room remains under the city’s debt ceiling, but almost all major capital initiatives being proposed in Winnipeg.
"You talk about a collision course between major capital projects. There’s Arlington, there’s Chief Peguis Trail, there’s Kenaston, there’s Marion. There’s a portfolio of projects that all have their benefits," Allard said.
"Even if the other levels of government came to the table, if you look at the math, you can only really do one of these major capital projects and then we’re out of gas. I’m not convinced we can afford any of them at the end of the day, not unless we’re willing to look at other revenue sources."
The committee voted Tuesday to approve the preliminary design studies for the Chief Peguis Trail extension and the Arlington Bridge replacement, although both projects still have multiple hurdles to pass before being finalized and funded.
Speaking to the committee, members of the public service said the Arlington Bridge might have to be decommissioned "at any time," since the structure has significantly corroded over the years.
It’s hoped the degradation can be managed until a replacement can be built, which would take five years to complete. These concerns are not new and city reports have been authored going as far back as the 1950s which call for the bridge to be replaced.
If the bridge is decommissioned before a replacement is built, city data indicates it will lead to bottlenecking on the other routes that connect the North End to the rest of the city, as well as lengthy detours for pedestrians and cyclists.
While Allard said he recognizes the necessity of replacing the bridge, as well as extending the Chief Peguis Trail, there will be a time when people have to choose which project – if any – they think is the most important.
"Winnipeggers are expecting all of these projects to get built right away and we don’t have the capacity… I think it’s time to have the conversation about what can we actually afford and what we should actually be spending the money on if we are going to be making these massive investments," Allard said.
"I think Winnipeggers have to ask themselves: If we build one of these major capital projects, is that really the one project they want for the city? Because we cannot afford any other project without tax increases or debt, and debt isn’t free either."
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