Light rail transit recommended for Winnipeg

A city committee has unanimously backed the idea of pursuing a light rail public transit system in Winnipeg.

A city committee unanimously backed the idea of pursuing a light rail public transit system in Winnipeg.

A report recommending light rail as preferred option for rapid transit was given full support by the Executive Policy Committee (EPC) on Wednesday.

The recommendation will now be forwarded to council for a final vote. If approved by council, future progress on the city's rapid transit system will focus on light rail as opposed to bus transportation.

The city is already in the middle of constructing Phase 1 of a bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor. The dedicated bus lane is being built from The Forks in downtown to Jubilee Avenue in the Fort Rouge neighbourhood at a cost of $138 million.

The three-year project began last year and is being funded by all levels of government.

Phase 2 of the project is slated to run from Jubilee Avenue to Bison Drive, near the University of Manitoba. It was originally supposed to be a BRT system as well but the city started waffling in April on whether to drop that and pursue light rail transit (LRT).

That's when council decided to spend $100,000 to explore the option. The report approved Wednesday is the report from that study.

Mayor Sam Katz has said Phase 1 would not be turfed in favour of LRT.

However, light rail will be pursued for Phase 2 and all other expansions of the rapid transit system if council gives the go ahead at its next meeting later this month.

Private-public money recommended

The EPC is also recommending council seek money for an LRT system through a federal fund designed to assist public-private partnerships (P3).

Katz has said in the past that bus rapid transit costs $38 million per kilometre to build while light rail costs $50 million per kilometre.

The Manitoba government has already committed money for a BRT in Phase 2. There is no word yet on whether that commitment will stand if the switch is made to light rail.

Despite the overwhelming support on Wednesday by EPC members, there was vocal opposition to the report. The Winnipeg Rapid Transit Coalition, a grassroots lobby group, spoke against it as did Coun. Jenny Gerbasi.

Critics said an LRT is too expensive and federal funds through P3 Canada will be too slow in coming.

But Mayor Sam Katz said there are environmental benefits to encouraging more use of public transit and he believes light rail may be the incentive needed to get die-hard drivers out of their vehicles.

"If you walk around the street and talk to the people in our city who drive vehicles, I have yet to come across anybody who says they will definitively leave their vehicle at home [without rapid transit]," he said.

"I can't find those people."