Light rail pushed back into city conversations – Winnipeg Free Press

The decades-old debate about building light rail in Winnipeg may still have some sparks.

While noting that the city council can be seen as “boldly going into the past”, the city councilor. Brian Mayes wants his colleagues to “seriously consider” adding light rail construction in the future, like many other cities.

“I feel like we may have missed the generation to do bus rapid transit. The city is growing…and I just feel like, why put in a network of BRT lines and then , the day you’re done, start ripping them off because now you’re up to a million people and you want the LRT,” Mayes says.

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“(The light rail) would attract more people. I think some people who wouldn’t get on a bus would get on a train. You can use electricity and (Manitoba is) electricity rich,” said Winnipeg City Councilor Brian Mayes.

Winnipeg City Council has debated the best way to increase its public transit for decades, debating a light rail rapid transit option on and off since at least the 1970s. Ultimately, the city settled on a bus rapid transit system and completed a dedicated corridor in 2020. The Southwest Rapid Transit Route was a two-phase project with a combined cost of $556 million.

Last year, council approved a 25-year transit master plan that aims to create a network of six rapid transit corridors, which are expected to once again rely on buses.

Given the city has only completed one rapid transit line so far, Mayes said it made sense to reevaluate the best way forward, noting that Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton all have a light rail transit system.

“(The light rail) would attract more people. I think some people who wouldn’t get on a bus would get on a train. You can use electric power and (Manitoba is) rich in electric power,” Mayes said.

The councilor does not have a current estimate of the costs of a light rail system, but said the city could apply for provincial and federal funding to help cover it, while construction could also eliminate the need. to add another lane of traffic for the often congested. St. Mary’s Road.

While uncertain whether LRT would be feasible for all future rapid transit routes, Mayes suggests that a line from St. Mary’s Road to Main Street, as well as a line from Portage Avenue at Point Douglas or from Portage Avenue to Provencher Boulevard, might make sense.

A Winnipeg Transit spokeswoman confirmed that the city’s main reason for not pursuing light rail transit was to save money. However, the BRT system also benefits from creating routes that can be shared with other buses, while smaller vehicles can also allow for more frequent pickups than some LRT systems, Alissa Clark said in an email. .

Clark said each kilometer of an LRT route should cost two to four times as much to build as a BRT kilometer.

And while Winnipeg’s Transit Master Plan calls for bus rapid transit infrastructure, such as bridges and tunnels, to be designed to accommodate trains in the future, “there would still be a cost important for the modernization of the line,” wrote Clark.

However, the potential cost shouldn’t stop Winnipeg from considering the idea, according to Jino Distasio, professor of urban geography at the University of Winnipeg.

“We’ve fallen decades and decades behind other cities…which aren’t necessarily much bigger than what we’re going to be…The traffic is going to keep getting worse and worse unless we don’t. ‘Let’s have a credible alternative to the automobile, coupled with good planning,’ Distasio said.

Although he acknowledged that a complete light rail system would require “generational capital investment”, the professor said this could be justified.

“If Winnipeg really wants to be a competitive city, we need to at least have a very vigorous debate about it again… The fundamental difference with all previous discussions, going back even to the 1970s, is the fact that the last 20 years have been like no other for this city (with substantial growth).

Com. Matt Allard, chairman of the council’s public works committee, said he was open to discussion – although he stressed the current plan must remain the top priority.

“I’m certainly open-minded to the idea, but also aware that we have to move forward with the master plan,” Allard said. “If there was a light rail project to consider, it has to make sense in terms of tax dollars, staging and where we are (with) the plan, on the scale from the city. »

Com. Jeff Browaty, chairman of the finance committee, said he remains confident the current plan is the best option.

“Building a (light rail) network that would actually be usable, that would actually go far enough to be useful, is too expensive,” Browaty said. “I still think a better investment of time and resources is to provide more frequent service to more locations across the city network.”

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Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Journalist

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves telling the stories of this city, especially when it comes to politics. Joyanne became a reporter at City Hall for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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