Construction Association raising red flags about mayor's infrastructure plan

The Winnipeg Construction Association wants to erect barricades around Mayor Brian Bowman's plan to devote scarce federal infrastructure funding to "routine road maintenance."

Bowman requesting Building Canada millions for 'routine road work'

Winnipeg Construction Association policy manager Colin Fast says road renewals are routine work and do not constitute the significant projects envisioned by the new Building Canada Fund. (Jules Runne/CBC)

The Winnipeg Construction Association wants to erect barricades around Mayor Brian Bowman's plan to devote scarce federal infrastructure funding to "routine road maintenance."

On Friday, the mayor announced he plans to ask Ottawa to earmark $182 million from the new Building Canada Fund — a pot of money dedicated to infrastructure projects — to fix regional roads such as Pembina Highway, Portage Avenue and Main Street.​

Citing polling that suggests road renewals are Winnipeggers' No. 1 priority, Bowman said the city could fix more regional streets without devoting any more of its own money if the Trudeau government agrees to the city's request.

"This is no new money for the City of Winnipeg or the Province of Manitoba to really accelerate the regional road repairs," the mayor said Friday at city hall.

This plan, which faces council approval on July 19, marks a departure for the city, which usually prioritizes major projects for federal infrastructure funding. The last time the city created a wish list, in 2015, council made the Waverley underpass its top funding priority.

Ignoring capital projects in favour of roadwork does not fulfil the purpose of the Building Canada Fund, said Colin Fast, policy manager for the Winnipeg Construction Association ​

"If I was the infrastructure minister, I think I'd be sending this plan back to the drawing board because this is routine road maintenance. This isn't a project that's of regional or national significance. This isn't what an infrastructure project is geared toward," Fast said Monday in an interview.

"Normally, an infrastructure fund like this is supposed to be used for projects of regional or national significance — and here we're talking about routine road maintenance. So it's a little disappointing that the city couldn't come forward with a plan that's you know, a little more significant for the city."​

Along with prioritizing the Waverley underpass in 2015, city council also identified the widening of Marion Street, the widening of Kenaston Boulevard and the western extension of Chief Peguis Trail as the city's top infrastructure-funding priorities.

The Waverley project is underway, but the Kenaston project has been delayed by the Kapyong land dispute and the Chief Peguis Trail extension remains in the planning phase.

Plans to replace the Louise Bridge are on hold while the city studies East Transitway alignment options. (Jules Runne/CBC)
This array of projects, chosen by politicians, differs from the immediate priorities identified by the city's Transportation Master Plan in 2011. It pegged the replacement of the Louise Bridge as a more pressing priority and also stated the replacement of the Arlington Bridge deserved similar consideration as the Waverley underpass.

Fast said the city ought to access federal funds to complete the major projects.

"We have a [Louise Bridge] that's more than a century old. It doesn't show up in the capital plan right now," he said, referring to the city's decision to put off plans to replace the span over the Red River while studying options for the East Transitway, a bus corridor that will connect downtown with Transcona.

"There's planning underway for an expansion of rapid transit, for a major new recreation centre in the southwest part of the city and there's no money in the budget to build all these things."

Bowman, however, said the city is not ready to embark on major projects, noting the city doesn't not know what they would cost and has no money set aside, anyway.

The Arlington Bridge is nearing the end of its life. (Jules Runne/CBC)
There does not appear to be any opposition to the mayor's plan, however.

Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt, a frequent Bowman critic, allowed his comments to be included in the mayor's press release about the decision to prioritize roadwork for federal funding.

South Winnipeg-St. Norbert Coun. Janice Lukes  and North Kildonan Coun. Browaty also praised the plan, although Browaty could not resist an opportunity to take a shot at the mayor.

"The mayor finally woke up, looked at his calendar and realized there's an election next year. We want to see some roads done in the city and that's what Winnipeggers have always been asking for," Browaty said.


Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter 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. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.