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Portage and Main, a systematic issue at City Hall

Portage and Main, a systematic issue at City Hall
Portage and Main

Just six years ago, Winnipeggers decisively voted against opening Portage and Main to pedestrian traffic. Now, the debate resurfaces, driven by the substantial expenses proposed by the public service, demanding an immediate decision.


During a news conference last Friday, Mayor Scott Gillingham advocated for reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians, directly contradicting a campaign promise made during the 2022 election.


Revisiting the Portage and Main issue poses political risks. This divisive matter has historically split the city, with many remaining opposed. Proceeding could endanger elected officials' support base. But what if there was a politically prudent escape route on this issue?


Friday's announcement was reportedly prompted by a newly released public service report detailing the traffic impact and costs of repairing the Portage and Main underground. The report estimates a construction-related traffic delay of four to five years and a cost exceeding $73 million to repair the underground infrastructure, including replacing the waterproof membrane and ensuring accessibility for all users. The absence of this report six years ago raises questions.


In 2018, during my council candidacy, I approached the Portage and Main issue cautiously. Without concrete cost assessments, I refrained from taking a definitive stance, resonating with those who prioritize financial clarity before making significant decisions.


It's striking that many current council members pursued a plebiscite on Portage and Main without comprehensive financial analyses or alternative proposals. Now, faced with substantial costs, a shift in their positions seems likely, perhaps under the guise of fiscal prudence.


Councillor Brian Mayes expressed opposition, advocating for further deliberation and exploration of alternative options during a conversation we had after the official announcement. He cautioned against rushing the decision, emphasizing the need to consider alternatives to avoid further division.


A motion will be tabled at the March 7th meeting of the Property and Planning Committee, proposing the reopening of Portage and Main by the summer of 2025, aligning with the launch of a new transit route network. Mayes plans to propose more time for a thorough review.


Opening Portage and Main to pedestrians pales in comparison to the broader issues facing our city. If downtown residents and stakeholders desire it, so be it. The real concern lies in how major decisions are made at City Council.


During my tenure, major decisions were often rushed, based on hastily released public service reports, limiting thorough review and consideration of alternatives.


The cost of keeping Portage and Main closed may be high, but numerous unanswered questions remain regarding sealing off the underground, potential risks, and taxpayer reimbursement to major landowners.


Efficient and cost-effective solutions, including crosswalk designs and potential bike lanes, require exploration. The delay in addressing these issues raises concerns about the city's reactive approach to infrastructure matters, exemplified by the Arlington Bridge's neglect.


Winnipeg faces an infrastructure deficit, demanding proactive planning and action. Complacency and procrastination are not viable responses, as the costs of inaction burden future generations.


City Council must prioritize decisions impacting the city's future and avoid last-minute rushes. Mayes' call for more discussion on the Portage and Main project is fair, as transparency and informed decision-making are essential to address systemic issues within Winnipeg City Hall.



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