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This article was published 10/10/2014 (2571 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Back in the 1950s, Winnipeg contemplated building a rapid-transit network. Nearly six decades later, the city is still thinking about it.
A three-line subway plan floated in 1959 was deemed too expensive. So was a single-line subway proposed in 1966.
A monorail proposed by mayor Stephen Juba in 1972 was met with laughter. A southwestern bus corridor envisioned in 1976 was shelved for more than 30 years.
The first 3.6-kilometre leg of the Southwest Transitway was completed in 2012 at a cost of $138 million. A council led by Mayor Sam Katz agreed to bundle the construction of the second leg with a new Pembina Highway underpass at Jubilee Avenue and associated drainage works at a total cost of $590 million, including $425 million for the transit corridor alone.
The price tag for the transitway's second phase has led some city councillors and mayoral candidates to balk. So did the proposed route, which veers through Fort Garry's Parker, Beaumont and Maybank neighbourhoods instead of following the CN Letellier line, which runs closer to Pembina Highway.
Muddying the waters is the revelation the city conducted no real assessment of the Parker neighbourhood land before swapping it to developer Andrew Marquess, who gave up part of his Fort Rouge Yards holdings.
Equally concerning is the slow progress of a Marquess-led development at those yards -- a project that was supposed to help pay for the transitway's first phase.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg is supposed to complete the Southwest Transitway by 2020 and then follow a 2011 transportation master plan that calls for east, north and west corridors to be completed by 2031.
No mayoral candidate plans to pursue that course. Here's what they are offering, in terms of rapid transit:
- Transit plan: Complete the Southwest Transitway and five other dedicated bus corridors by 2030, including the Southeast and Northeast transitways.
- Price tag: Easily several billion dollars. Bowman claims future developments will generate property-tax revenue to cover the cost.
- Reality check: City planners didn't recommend building the northeast and southeast corridors until after 2031. Winnipeg's engineering and construction industries likely don't have the capacity to build six lines so quickly. There's no guarantee new developments will generate enough revenue to pay back costs. And most crucially, someone has to foot the bill ahead of time -- and the city doesn't have that kind of borrowing capacity.
- Transit plan: Add more buses to busy downtown routes to reduce congestion.
- Price tag: $2 million to $5 million in additional one-time purchases; millions more in ongoing operating costs.
- Reality check: This is doable. The city spent $15 million on new transit buses this year and plans to bump that up to $17 million in 2015.
- Transit plan: Cancel the Southwest Transitway's second phase and convert both the existing leg and second phase into a light-rail corridor.
- Price tag: Converting and completing the entire Southwest Transitway as a light-rail line was pegged at $700 million in 2011. That tab would exceed $1 billion today.
- Reality check: The funding is not in place. The project would be delayed for several years. Transportation study after study concluded bus corridors offer Winnipeg more flexibility than commuter rail lines.
- Transit plan: Scrap the completion of the Southwest Transitway. Convince CP and CN to build rail lines, yards and shops outside the city. Repurpose existing rail lines for a light-rail transit network.
- Price tag: Likely billions to build new lines, shops and yards outside the city, clean up existing industrial sites and repurpose rail-shipping infrastructure to transit use. Ouellette says the relocation piece will cost as little as $150 million but freely admits he hasn't costed out the program.
- Reality check: Railway companies have no interest in moving their operations. Even if all three levels of government convinced them to do so, they would push to have their costs covered by the public purse. This would take years or decades to pursue, leaving Winnipeg with no mass transit in the short term. Most crucially, study after study by city planners -- professionals Ouellette pledged to respect -- concluded bus corridors make more sense.
- Transit plan: Suspend the Southwest Transitway's second phase. Convert the existing first phase from a bus corridor to light rail and complete the corridor along the CN Letellier line, roughly parallel to Pembina Highway.
- Price tag: Pegged at $700 million in 2011, but would exceed $1 billion.
- Reality check: No funding in place. This would take longer and would run contrary to planners' recommendations. On the plus side, the Letellier alignment would do more to densify the Pembina Highway commercial corridor.
- Transit plan: Cancel the second phase of the Southwest Transitway.
- Price tag: Nothing, in the short term.
- Reality check: Forgoing a transit program will save money now. This ignores the fact the city's dire financial situation -- now and in the future -- is the direct result of low density, itself partly the result of the absence of a mass transit system.
- Transit plan: Review the ballooning cost to complete the Southwest Transitway and see whether the $590-million tab can be reduced. Then finish it.
- Price tag: Likely $590 million.
- Reality check: It's unclear any savings can be found within Winnipeg Transit's plan.