Tempers flare over rapid transit at city committee meeting
The second phase of Winnipeg's southwest rapid transit corridor came within a motion of major delays on Thursday and led to a tense standoff between two city councillors.
Coun. Justin Swandel introduced the motion at the public works committee meeting, recommending rail lines on the route not be moved closer to homes.
He was concerned the plan to move an existing rail line closer to about 20 properties along a one-kilometre stretch of road near Markham Road would threaten the safety of those residents.
- Ditch the bus, get light rail transit, says Winnipeg councillor
- Rapid transit's next turns debated at Winnipeg city hall
Markham is close to the southern end of the proposed corridor for the Southwest Transitway Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which will run from Jubilee Avenue to Bison Drive, near the University of Manitoba.
The head of Winnipeg Transit, Dave Wardrop, said there was no way the project could continue without moving that one-kilometre section of line near Markham.
"It would result in a substantive rework of the project. It would have a negative impact on both the cost and the constructability of the project and would, in fact, terminate [government funding] resulting in postponement."
"I'm not here to kill this section of rapid transit, I'm here to improve safety," Swandel said.
Are you telling me that these people don't fear ... or fear for the moving trains?- Coun. Justin Swandel
"They are fearful for their lives," he added about the residents.
Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, a proponent of the BRT system, expressed frustration that questions about the route were coming up so late in the process, potentially creating further delays.
"Are you telling me that these people don't fear ... or fear for the moving trains?" Swandel asked Gerbasi.
"No, I didn't say that they don't have fear, councillor," she responded.
"You’re the one that's whipping something up here," Swandel snapped back.
Mark Cohoe, executive director of Bike Winnipeg — a bicycle advocacy group — was also at the meeting and said he was concerned the whole plan would be delayed or stopped by the motion. The rapid transit line and active transit components of it are good for cyclists, he said.
Wardrop said the rail track re-locations have been part of the BRT plan since 2012 and that has been published in open houses in 2012, '13 and '14. The rail line move is also published on the city's website.
Wardrop said that if the rail line isn't moved the whole project would be in jeopardy.
The motion wasn't passed but Transit was told to talk to the residents again about their worries.
And, notices were mailed to residents along that area offering one-on-one meetings to discuss designs, he said.
In the current plan, the closest the rail line would get to a property line is 18.5 metres, Wardrop noted.
Gerbasi acknowledged Swandel has the right to advocate for the residents, but wondered why their concerns were never heard in years of open houses and consultations.
The move and it's proximity doesn't raise concerns with rail company CN and complies to national transportation guidelines, he added.
In the end, Swandel's motion was not passed but transit was ordered to do more consultation with residents.
The $590-million BRT is scheduled for completion in 2019.