Winnipeg plans to open first of 4 Portage and Main crossings by next fall

The city hopes to allow pedestrians to cross Portage Avenue E. — between Richardson Plaza and the Bank of Montreal — by "the fall of 2019."

Portage Avenue E. could reopen to foot traffic by fall 2019

Portage and Main has been closed to pedestrians since 1979. The city plans to reopen the intersection, starting with the east side in late 2019. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The City of Winnipeg plans to open the first of four pedestrians crossings at Portage and Main within 18 months.

The city hopes to allow pedestrians to cross Portage Avenue E. — between Richardson Plaza and the Bank of Montreal — by "the fall of 2019," says a request for proposals for intersection design services posted by the city on Tuesday afternoon.

The city is in the midst of spending $3.5 million to redesign the intersection, improve the sidewalks above ground and repair the underground concourse. Mayor Brian Bowman pledged to reopen the intersection during his initial election campaign in 2014.

In a report to council in 2017, the city identified Portage Avenue E. as the first intersection to reopen, as it carries less motor vehicle traffic.

A study by Dillon Consulting, also made public last fall, recommended reducing the eastbound portion of Portage Avenue E. from two lanes to one lane to accommodate future changes to the southeast corner of the intersection, at the Bank of Montreal building.

The request for proposals posted by the city seeks a consultant capable of planning and designing the reopening of all four pedestrian crossings.

But there are no timelines in place for reopening two crossings of Main Street on the north and south sides of the intersection or the Portage Avenue crossing on the west side.

Portage Avenue E., on the right in this aerial view, would be narrowed as part of the plan, says a study published last fall. (Google Street View/Around This Town)

The consultant has been asked to create "a detailed, phased plan for the Portage and Main barrier removals, with the assumption that the crossing from the Richardson Plaza to the Bank of Montreal (Portage Avenue E.) would be implemented first."

The other three intersections won't be reopened until the city tallies up the costs, studies the traffic impacts and aligns the plan with future plans to build the North Transitway up Main Street to Burrows Avenue, the report says.

The reopening of Portage and Main will also affect long-term city plans to remove buses from Main Street to an elevated portion of existing railway, plan the East Transitway through St. Boniface to Transcona and create better pedestrian connectivity with new residential developments planned for The Forks.

The deadline for the request for proposals is June 26.

Winnipeg chief administrative officer Doug McNeil said Wednesday the fall of 2019 is merely a target.

City council must approve the reopening of Portage Avenue E. before any work starts, McNeil said.

Council planning, property and development chair John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) said he was not made aware of the request for proposals. 

Bowman said he was aware it was coming and no opening will take place before a council vote.

He said if he was thinking politically, he would have pushed to open the intersection sooner.

"This is a very small part of a vision for downtown which is more welcoming, more vibrant and more safe," the mayor said.

North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty, who opposes changes to pedestrian traffic at Portage and Main, said reopening one side of the intersection would contravene a Dillon study recommendation to create consistency for drivers.

"Allowing pedestrians to cross one section introduces both confusion for motorists and encourages pedestrians to consider dangerous crossings that are not open," Browaty said in a statement.

He called for a council vote on the request for proposals.

Mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk said she would cancel the reopening of Portage and Main if elected in October.

Tim Diack, another mayoral candidate, said he would spend more money to design elevated crossings for pedestrians and cyclists.

Don Woodstock, Umar Hayat and Doug Wilson are also registered to run for mayor.

The City of Winnipeg plans to open the first of four pedestrians crossings at Portage and Main within 18 months. 1:54

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