3-line Winnipeg rapid-transit network to cost up to $1.1B over 24 years

Winnipeg plans to spend up to $1.1 billion over the next 24 years building out a rapid-transit network that will mostly use existing streets.

Downtown components, recommended to be done first, would cost up to $355M

A proposed new transit bridge over Queen Elizabeth Way takes buses from the CN high line to the existing Southwest Transitway. (Transportation Master Plan)

Winnipeg plans to spend up to $1.1 billion over the next 24 years building out a rapid-transit network that will mostly use existing streets.

Winnipeg Transit's new master plan, which comes before city council's public works committee this week, calls for the completion of three rapid transit lines by 2045 at a cost of $588 million to $1.1 billion.

The new plan calls for two extensions of Winnipeg's Transit's existing Blue Line, which currently runs from downtown to the University of Manitoba's Fort Garry campus along the Southwest Transitway.

At the southeast end of the existing transitway, a new bridge over the Red River would connect the Blue Line to St. Vital Shopping Centre. At the north end of the existing line, a western extension would run down Portage Avenue for 17 kilometres to Red River Exhibition Park.

A new east-west Rose Line would run from St. James to Transcona, using Moray Street, Grant Avenue, Nairn Avenue and Regent Avenue, among other streets.

A north-south Orange Line would run from West Kildonan to South St. Vital, using Main Street and St. Mary's Road, among other streets.

At first, new corridors on Winnipeg's proposed rapid-transit network would use diamond lanes and queue-jump lanes for buses. Dedicated transitways would then be carved out of major streets. (CBC News Graphics)

All three lines would converge downtown at a new rapid transit hub at Union Station. Blue and Rose line buses would run above ground on two lanes of CN Rail's existing downtown high line to minimize traffic congestion on the downtown stretch of Main Street.

This plan would also require the construction of a bridge over Queen Elizabeth Way at Stradbrook Avenue, near The Forks, connecting the high line to the existing Southwest Transitway at Harkness Station. 

Most of this network would be carved out of existing roads, initially through the use of diamond lanes, queue-jumping lanes for buses and transit priority signals.

"The most basic rapid transit infrastructure is on an existing street. In places with little congestion, there is likely no need to build new infrastructure for many years, and rapid transit service can be provided on the existing street," the master plan says.

Down the road, parts of all three lines would be converted entirely into dedicated transitways, still carved out of space on existing streets.

"Most fully separated transitways outside of downtown will be centre-running, including most of Portage Avenue and Main Street. Transitways in other areas, including downtown, will be based on the physical constraints of the existing roadways in those neighbourhoods," the master plan says.

"Where transit operates in mixed traffic, infrastructure improvements can be implemented to provide priority to transit movements to improve service reliability."

While the master plan does not suggest timelines for the construction of the new rapid-transit network, it does lay out priorities for building components of the plan.

The first priority is rapid-transit infrastructure in and around downtown. It would involve building space for Orange Line buses from Main Street at Higgins Avenue to St. Mary's Road at Taché Avenue, as well as the conversion of two lanes of CN Rail's high line into space for Blue and Rose line buses and the new transit bridge over Queen Elizabeth Way.

The master plan pegs this component at an estimated price of $191 million to $355 million. These is a rough estimate, in 2020 dollars, and does not include projections for construction inflation or financing charges.

The plan recommends the conversion of the high line for transit use and the construction of the new bridge over Queen Elizabeth Way because running all three rapid-transit lines along Main Street would cause traffic problems.

"Modelling indicates that traffic congestion increases considerably if transit movements between the side-running Main Street busway and the Southwest Transitway were at grade," the plan says.

"To alleviate this congestion, it is proposed that the Blue and Rose rapid lines be shifted off Main Street and elevated to route over Queen Elizabeth Way and through Union Station. This develops better pedestrian access to the rapid lines but requires the reconfiguration of the operation the Stradbrook-Mayfair-Harkness traffic movements."

Winnipeg Transit plans to convert two lanes of CN's high line to an elevated transitway for use by two of the city's three proposed rapid-transit lines. The third would run along Main Street. (Transportation Master Plan)

The plan also recommends the construction of a new rapid-transit station at or near Portage and Main, where all three lines also converge, also in order to reduce traffic congestion. A separate study will come up with design options, the master plan says.

After the downtown infrastructure is built, the plan recommends building out the rest of the rapid-transit network in three more stages.

The second stage would extend Orange Line north along Main Street to Inkster Boulevard, convert Sutherland Avenue in Point Douglas into a Rose Line transitway and extend the Blue Line to St. Vital Centre using the new bridge over the Red River. Jubilee Station would also be expanded to connect to Pembina Highway.

The third stage would build a Rose Line corridor on Grant Avenue, extend the Orange Line south along St. Mary's Road to St. Vital Centre and extend the Orange Line north from Inkster Boulevard to Fernbank Avenue.

The fourth and final stage would carve out dedicated Rose Line transitways on Nairn Avenue and Regent Avenue. This would require the construction of new overpasses at CP's main line and Lagimodiere Boulevard. This stage would also see a Blue Line transitway built on Portage Avenue from the University of Winnipeg to Unicity.


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.

With files from Sean Kavanagh


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