by His Worship Brian Bowman, Mayor of Winnipeg
Welcome back to another month of SmartBiz, Winnipeg! Last month I talked about tourism in our city, and this month I’d like to talk about rapid transit – something that will help support Winnipeg’s tourism, as well as benefit our residents tremendously as we grow towards one million people strong.
At the beginning of June, Winnipeg hosted many different Mayors from cities, big and small, from across Canada at the Big City Mayors Caucus meeting and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting and trade show.
It was interesting to speak with Mayors visiting from cities with one million people or more. In their cities, rapid transit is already well established and an important part of their transportation infrastructure. Cities like Calgary, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto all have some form of rapid transit, and some have more than just one.
For me, it is clear Winnipeg requires a rapid transit system, and the time to build that system for the future is now, before we reach one million people.
We need to make strategic investments in infrastructure based on future demands, not the demands of today. This is certainly not a new or novel strategy. All infrastructure investments we make need to meet current demands but also prepare us for future pressures arising from a growing city.
I believe Winnipeg needs to be part of the conversations other big cities are having, and that we need to keep our city moving forward. We simply cannot continue with previous City Councils’ track records of delaying decision making and forcing difficult decisions onto subsequent Councils.
Several years ago, City Council decided on bus rapid transit as the optimal rapid transit system for Winnipeg. In June, Council had a difficult decision to make with respect to land acquisition, and I expect there will be other difficult decisions to be made in this regard. However, I continue to believe in moving forward with a bus rapid transit system. But, like any project, I don’t believe in it at any and all cost. We need to monitor its progress closely.
This is why I was very encouraged to learn about significant cost savings identified for the second phase of the Southwest Rapid Transitway. Cost savings of $120 million have been identified for this project, and it is currently on-track and on-time with construction scheduled to start later this year.
It is unfortunate that some councillors want to move us backward and revisit the debate over what type of rapid transit system is best for Winnipeg. Some have even recommended the City cancel bus rapid transit in favour of a light rail system at anywhere from 2.5 to 50 times the cost of bus rapid transit. I don’t believe that is a cost or a delay the City can endure at this time, and do not feel we should be throwing away all of the money already invested in years of planning and engineering work. Through careful planning, however, investments being made today in bus rapid transit infrastructure can be converted to light rail in the future if required.
The second phase of bus rapid transit represents one of the largest capital projects in the City’s history. For this project, we have secured $365 million dollars from our provincial and federal partners. Now is not the time to walk away from $365 million in federal and provincial commitments, and to walk away from a project we need to build today to make our city better tomorrow.
I also do not want to go back to the days of Council fighting over what rapid transit system they want. I certainly appreciate for many councillors and many Winnipeggers, bus rapid transit continues to be a controversial issue. But I do not want to move our city backwards. I want to continue moving us forward and to build our city for the future.
As we get set to begin construction on the second phase of rapid transit, we need to begin examining the next best route. The City of Winnipeg’s Transportation Plan identifies the eastern corridor as the next priority for rapid transit, and work is currently underway to examine and develop the conceptual design as well as the broad implementation strategy for the next rapid transit route that would link Transcona to the downtown.
I believe Winnipeg’s future is bright. And, together, we can build a city we can all be proud of. A modern and efficient rapid transit system plays an integral role in supporting a city that is growing to one million people strong.