Winnipeg councillors duel over underpass projects

St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard says Winnipeg's 2015 budget is taking money from his ward to pay for a project in another part of the city.

Coun. Matt Allard upset that $5.2M funding for Marion Street upgrades has been cut

St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard says the city's latest budget has $5.2 million for a project on Marion Street cut, with the money being redirected to the Building Canada Fund. (Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard says Winnipeg's 2015 budget is taking money from his ward to pay for a project in another part of the city.

Speaking at a meeting of council's infrastructure renewal and public works committee on Monday, Allard said money had been set aside for a major upgrade to Marion Street.

But Allard said the latest budget has the $5.2 million for the project cut, with the money being redirected to the Building Canada Fund.

"I personally campaigned on lobbying other levels of government to get funding for this particular project, and I find out now that it's been cut as a city project specifically," he told reporters.

Allard said he's worried that the money will be spent on building an underpass at Waverley Street and Taylor Avenue instead.

"If you look at the decisions that have been made, if you look at the fact that we had $5.2 million for these street upgrades, it's basically one project being cancelled and we don't know what the final outcome is going to be," he said.

Allard added that he's upset neither Mayor Brian Bowman nor members of his executive policy committee mentioned that the Marion project would be cut.

Allard has it wrong

River Heights-Fort Garry councillor John Orlikow disagrees. He says no projects have been cut. Orlikow says this is an example of the city doing business in a more open and transparent way. Orlikow says Allard is mistaken if he thinks the federal money is going to a new underpass at Waverley and Taylor.

"If it said the Waverley underpass project there, then I could see where his concern was", Orlikow said Monday. "But it specifically says Building Canada projects.  So whatever project is chosen to go, it could be the Marion, it could be the Waverley, it could be all three.  That money will be earmarked to one of those projects or all the projects.  So the money isn't gone anywhere."

Mayor suggests special meeting

With questions being raised about whether there is enough money to complete street projects, Bowman said council should hold a special meeting to prioritize projects before asking the federal government for more funding.

"What I am looking to do is make decisions on the basis of cost-benefit analysis for what's going to be the best bang for the buck for the city with the money and the money available both within the city and from our federal and provincial partners," he said.

In addition to the Waverley underpass and the widening of Marion Street, other projects in which the city may be short of money include replacing the Arlington Bridge and extending the William R. Clement Parkway.

Bowman said he had a look at the Arlington Bridge, which is 103 years old, over the weekend.

"We do have an infrastructure deficit that we do need to dig our way out of, and that's why we've tripled the funding for road repairs for instance since 2012 in the draft budget," he said.

At least 18 delegations lined up during Monday's committee meeting to sound off on the budget, including other councillors and community groups.

Functional Transit Winnipeg spoke out against expanding the city's rapid transit corridor, saying the budget should instead focus on increasing the frequency of the transit service.

Several groups pushed for more funding for active transportation, including Bike Winnipeg and the Physical Activity Coalition of Manitoba.

As well, student unions from the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg pushed for funding for the U-Pass student bus pass.


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