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This article was published 24/2/2016 (1387 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Waverley underpass will be built.
City council voted 15-1 Wednesday to approve the $155-million project and include it in this year's budget.
Only Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt voted against the project.
While several councillors expressed concerns with the project and whether others should be constructed before it, they put those concerns aside to support it.
"There were many concerns with the process and the lack of information coming forward," said Coun. Devi Sharma, who removed herself as council speaker for the debate on the issue so she could comment on it.
"The fiscal magnitude of the project is enormous and for that reason and given the budget situation we are in it is important we assess our expenditures carefully."
However, Sharma (Old Kildonan) said she recognized the importance of the project to the residents of south Winnipeg and, with assurances that the process will be improved, she said she would support it.
Other councillors, including Ross Eadie and Cindy Gilroy, expressed similar concerns but also said they would support the project.
The outcome was a positive one for Mayor Brian Bowman.
"At the end of the day, there was very strong support for the Waverley underpass and I'm very pleased with that," Bowman said following the meeting. "I think the discussion and debate we had over the last number of weeks and months was healthy. We're always looking for ways to improve our processes and I think you saw that with this project."
The project had been trumpeted at a news conference in July, where then Conservative MP Joyce Bateman said Ottawa would be fund it. Municipal minister Drew Caldwell said the province was also behind the project.
But controversy swirled around the project only recently, spurred on by the creation of the Jean Charest rail line relocation task force and a local consultant, who questioned how the project had been selected as the city's top priority.
The Waverley underpass had been ranked 20th on the city's Transportation Master Plan between 2011 and 2013, which envisioned it wouldn't be needed until 2021. However, the administration moved it in 2014 to the top six and then, in 2015, rated it as the city's most pressing transportation infrastructure project. Council endorsed the number-one rating a year ago and Wednesday's vote re-affirmed that endorsement.
Wyatt (Transcona) said city hall could be wasting $155 million if the Charest task force recommends removing train traffic from the CN Rivers line, which would make the underpass unnecessary.
Consultant Ken Klassen strongly criticized the administration for failing to conduct a traditional cost/benefit analysis and instead assessed the project based on a series of criteria that Klassen described as "unusual" and not done by any other level of government.
CAO Doug McNeil had dismissed the criticism, saying the project shouldn't be measured only on a dollars-and-cents approach, adding the underpass has merits that can't be measured that way.
McNeil appears to have little faith in the Charest task force. He said earlier that rail line relocation is unlikely to occur because the city will never be able to compensate the railroads and the city shouldn't delay projects for recommendations that are unlikely to be ever implemented.
Wyatt said he remains troubled about the administration's assessment methodology.
"It's very subjective, very questionable and to do it without a cost/benefit analysis seems to be problematic," Wyatt said.
Coun. Marty Morantz, who always supported the project, said the construction of the Kenaston underpass almost 10 years ago triggered a great deal of development along south Kenaston and he expects the Waverley underpass will have the same impact in that area.
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.
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