Councillor says reopening Portage and Main will cost Winnipeg Transit $7M plus $1M annually

Coun. Jeff Browaty claims the reopening of Portage and Main to pedestrians will cost Winnipeg Transit about $1 million a year in additional operating expenses and will also force the utility to spend nearly $7 million on new buses.

Jeff Browaty says Mayor Brian Bowman aware of transit impact of pedestrian-friendly project

The corner of Portage and Main has been closed to pedestrians since 1979. (Google Street View)

Coun. Jeff Browaty says reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians will cost Winnipeg Transit almost $1 million a year in additional operating expenses and will also force the utility to spend nearly $7 million on new buses.

The North Kildonan councillor, who opposes reopening the Portage Avenue and Main Street intersection to pedestrians, released a budget working-group briefing note on Wednesday that pegs the operational cost of the project at $952,000 in 2018 and states it would require transit to purchase 11 more buses at a cost of $6.8 million.

Browaty said the note means Mayor Brian Bowman and several other councillors were made aware of some of the costs associated with reopening the intersection, which has been closed to pedestrians since 1979, forcing people to cross the streets underground.

Bowman has pledged to reopen the intersection but there are no immediate plans to do so. There's no money for the project in the 2017 budget and public works director Lester Deane has said the planning will take two years.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Browaty said Winnipeg Transit had identified some of the risk associated with the project.

"We need to recognize that there are other costs: the costs of physically opening the intersection, property acquisition costs, possible settlements with property owners and the ongoing costs to Winnipeg Transit by having a large portion of our fleet of buses crawling through Portage and Main," Browaty stated.

In a scrum with reporters, he explained how what he called "Bowman's political promise to reopen Portage and Main" would lead to higher operating costs for Winnipeg Transit.

"If we're going to maintain the same level of service, we're going to maintain the same transit capacity, based on the hundreds of buses that will go through Portage and Main on any given day, to keep that same level of service, it will require additional transit buses on the street," said Browaty, who was a member of executive policy committee when the mayor's inner circle was briefed about the budget.

Browaty has become critical of Bowman since he was demoted from executive policy committee at the beginning of November. On Tuesday, he issued a statement assailing annual property-tax hikes of 0.33 percentage points to pay for rapid transit.

Browaty would not say why he waited until six days before council votes on the 2017 budget to begin criticizing the mayor.

Bowman said Wednesday it's hardly news to see Browaty oppose Portage and Main or rapid transit. The mayor said the potential costs associated with reopening Portage and Main will change as the plan progresses.

"There isn't anything finalized with regards to transit or public works that could be part of anything worthy of consideration for the budget," said Bowman, accusing Browaty of cherry-picking off a budget risk list.

The note released by Browaty also suggests a Portage and Main traffic study conducted by Dillon Consulting was due to be finished in September 2016.

Winnipeg chief administrative officer Doug McNeil said the city has only received a draft of that study and insisted he has not read the report.

It is believed to include a rough estimate of the full cost of reopening Portage and Main.


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.