Mayor's inner circle approves millions to prepare for possible Portage and Main reopening

Mayor Brian Bowman's inner circle has approved a plan to fix up Portage and Main as a prelude to reopening the intersection to pedestrians as soon as 2019.

$3.5M plan approved after amendment to ensure council has final say on opening intersection to pedestrians

Executive policy committee has approved spending to prepare Portage and Main for a possible reopening to pedestrians. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Mayor Brian Bowman's inner circle has approved a plan to fix up Portage and Main as a prelude to reopening the intersection to pedestrians as soon as 2019.

City council's executive policy committee voted unanimously Wednesday afternoon to spend up to $1.5 million to make improvements to the underground concourse at Portage and Main, up to $500,000 to improve the above-ground plaza at the Richardson Building, and up to $1.5 million on architectural and engineering plans that will make it possible to reintroduce pedestrians to the intersection.

The plan received unanimous approval after two of the mayor's allies made amendments.

St. James-Brooklands-Weston Coun. Scott Gillingham added a proviso that any final decision on reopening the intersection to pedestrians come before city council, with a cost estimate and a report about traffic and transit implications.

St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes added a requirement for a study of the North Transitway, a bus corridor planned along Main Street, which could reduce the transit burden on Portage and Main.

Before the vote, representatives from organizations such as The Forks, the downtown development agency CentreVenture, Economic Development Winnipeg, the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone and Storefront Manitoba spoke in favour of reopening the intersection.

They cited potential improvements to the pedestrian screetscape and better connections between different areas of downtown, including the Exchange District and The Forks.

Three members of council who don't sit on EPC raised concerns about the effects of reopening the intersection on Winnipeg Transit, personal vehicle traffic, pedestrian safety and municipal finances.

A study conducted by Dillon Consulting itemizes benefits and drawbacks of reopening Portage and Main.

The report states reopening the intersection will improve nighttime safety for pedestrians, make it easier for people with mobility issues to cross the intersection and improve the pedestrian streetscape, with no significant impacts on north-south motor-vehicle traffic.

The study also said reopening the intersection would slow bus service and increase the risk of pedestrian-vehicle collisions during turns, and will cost the city $11.6 million to remove barricades and make changes to accommodate Winnipeg Transit.

Don't write 'blank cheque': Browaty

North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty, council's most vocal opponent of reopening Portage and Main, warned EPC not to write "a blank cheque" for the intersection by funding improvements before all the costs are known.

Bowman asked the councillor under what circumstances he would support the reopening. 

Browaty said he will only support reopening Portage and Main when no more vehicles cross the intersection, a position the mayor called "extreme."

Elmwood-East Kildonan Coun. Jason Schreyer said the existing underground crossing suits Winnipeg's climate as well as its status as a modern, industrialized city.

CentreVenture chair Brent Bellamy suggested concerns about congestion following potential reopening to pedestrians are overstated. He compared traffic to water and said it will find a way through downtown.

City council as a whole will consider the funding next week.


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.