One bus corridor down, five more to go?

Mayor Brian Bowman promised to complete six bus corridors by 2030. But Winnipeg has no means of funding the next bus corridor on its priority list, the East Transitway, never mind the four others on the city's rapid-transit wish list.

Why the mayor's pledge to complete six rapid-transit lines by 2030 is more improbable now than ever

A southbound Winnipeg Transit bus at Osborne Station. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

When the entire length of the Southwest Transitway is finished in April 2020, it will have taken the City of Winnipeg 11 years to build its first dedicated bus corridor.

Mayor Brian Bowman has promised to finish another five in the next decade after that.

Bowman's pledge to complete a total of six rapid-transit corridors by 2030 sounded ambitious to the point of whimsical when the lawyer-turned-politician first proposed the idea during the 2014 mayoral race.

Three quarters of the way through his first term as mayor, fulfilling this pledge sounds even more unlikely, given the immense amount of time and money it takes to build dedicated bus corridors — not to mention the immense amount of political skill it takes to convince other levels of government to support these mega-projects.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman pledged to complete six transit corridors by 2030. (Gary Solilak/CBC)
Rapid-transit corridors cost a tremendous amount of money. Together, the two phases of the Southwest Transitway cost $605 million. The City of Winnipeg has no ability to cover tabs like this on its own.

In 2014, when Bowman ran for mayor, Manitoba was led by an NDP premier who was highly focused on his party's urban base, very friendly to Winnipeg Transit and open if not outright enamoured with the idea of borrowing money to pay for major projects.

Now, Premier Brian Pallister has presided over the end of the province's agreement to cover half of Winnipeg Transit's costs and has expressed no interest in funding any rapid-transit projects after the city completes the $467-million second phase of the Southwest Transitway.

While the Trudeau government in Ottawa remains a potential transit-funding partner, federal infrastructure dollars won't flow unless the city invests money of its own in new bus corridors. That isn't likely at a time when the city is running out of room to borrow money for anything other than sewage-treatment upgrades, which are financed by water-and-waste bills, not property taxes.

This means the city has no means of funding the next bus corridor on its priority list, the East Transitway from downtown to Transcona, never mind the four other corridors Bowman promised to complete by 2030.

Nonetheless, the mayor's allies on council continue to maintain it's possible to plan and execute a multi-billlion dollar expansion of Winnipeg's rapid-transit network in the current political and financial climate.

In an official letter in response to his mandate as public works chair, CounMarty Morantz (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Whyte Ridge) told the mayor this week he's working to "ensure Winnipeg remains on track to complete all bus-rapid-transit routes by 2030."

When that letter was presented to public works committee on Wednesday, North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty asked Morantz whether he believes "a magical cloud of money" would arrive to pay for five more bus corridors.

A map of the Southwest Transitway and the forthcoming East Transitway. (Jamie Clemis/CBC)
After the meeting, Morantz softened his position slightly to characterise the completion of six rapid-transit lines by 2030 as more of a policy ideal. 

"I view the promise as a goal to work toward and I think it's good to have goals to ward toward and we are making progress in that regard. How it will come to fruition, I don't have a crystal ball," Morantz said. 

"It is 13 years away, so a lot can happen in 13 years and I expect that we will have made a lot of progress on our rapid-transit network over that period of time."

At the risk of nitpicking, 2030 is slightly more than 12 years and two months away. You don't need to have an advanced degree in mathematics to note that's only slightly longer than the 11 years it's taking Winnipeg to build the Southwest Transitway.

Add in the fact Winnipeg spent 33 years planning and debating the construction of that bus corridor before shovels even hit the ground, and the idea of building five from scratch over the next 12 years sounds improbable.

For the record, here's what we've built so far in terms of bus corridors, what we're in the process of building and what is yet to come:

1. Southwest Transitway, phase one

Status: Opened in April 2012, after three years of construction. Originally conceived and recommended in 1976.

Cost: $138 million.

Length: 3.6 kilometres

Route: Runs between Queen Elizabeth Way near The Forks to Jubilee Avenue near Pembina Highway. 

Additional infrastructure: A tunnel below the CN Fort Rouge Yards, a bike-and-pedestrian path and four transit stations: Harkness, Osborne, Fort Rouge and Jubilee.

Stadium Station at Investors Group Field opened in July. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

1A. Southwest Transitway, phase two

Status: Under construction. Slated to open in April 2020.

Cost: $467 million.

Length: Seven kilometres.

Route: Extends existing transitway from Jubilee Avenue at Pembina Highway west along the Parker landsand then south along a Manitoba Hydro right of way and then alongside the CN Letellier rail line. to Markham Road.

Completed infrastucture: Bohemier Trail, a spur line from Pembina Highway through  to the University of Manitoba's Fort Garry campus to Investors Group Field, as well as IGF transit station.

Additional infrastructure: Transit bridges over Pembina Highway, McGillivray Boulevard, the CN Letellier line near Chevrier Boulevard and Bishop Grandin Boulevard, three new CN Rail bridges near Jubilee Avenue, cycling paths and seven transit stations: Parker, McGillivray, Clarence, Chevrier, Plaza, Chancellor and Markham.

2. East Transitway

Status: Design phase. Design study expected to be finished in 2018.

Cost: To be determined. 

Length: Six kilometres.

Route: To run between downtown and Lagimodiere Boulevard, partly utilizing a  city-owned right of way south of Nairn Avenue. Design study will determine whether the corridor will cross the Red River from the Exchange District to North St. Boniface or further north from Point Douglas to Elmwood. The design study will also suggest means of connected East Transitway to Southwest Transitway, utilizing unused elevated CN Rail tracks east of Main Street near Via Rail's Union Station. 

Winnipeg Transit has long-term plans to convert part of Union Station, which opened on Main Street in 1911, into a rapid-transit node. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

3. West Transitway

Status: Conceptual

Length: Five kilometres, not including airport spur line.

Route: Downtown to Route 90 near Polo Park, possibly utilizing Portage Avenue, plus a spur line to Richardson International Airport.

4. North Transitway

Status: Conceptual. 

Length: 2.5 kilometres.

Route: Downtown to Burrows Avenue in the North End, possibly utilizing Main Street.

5. Northeast Transitway

Status: Conceptual.

Length: Seven kilometres.

Route: Nairn Avenue to Perimeter Highway, possibly utilizing Northeast Pioneers Greenway

6. Southeast Transitway

Status: Conceptual.

Length: Seven kilometres.

Route: Nairn Avenue to Bishop Grandin Boulevard, possibly utilizing rail corridor. 


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.