City advised to reduce project design spending
THE City of Winnipeg could impose strict criteria for when a project warrants a detailed design, following concerns it has spent millions exploring projects that don’t get built.
“It’s city practice to do… functional designs, which are detailed designs of major infrastructure projects. And those things are done in advance of having funding for (the project). As a result, we have a number of them on the books that are designed but they’re not funded,” said Coun. Matt Allard.
“We have several projects that have a lot of merit and several projects that should be built, if we had the money. However, if you add them up, it’s clear as day that we don’t have the funding.”
Allard, who is council’s public works chairman, is calling for city staff to study the idea of putting conditions in place before money is spent on a functional design. He believes each project should have a class five (quite preliminary) cost estimate and a minimum of 40 per cent of its total price included in Winnipeg’s five-year capital budget forecast to qualify for that design.
Allard’s motion calls for future functional designs to include a 30-year forecast of operating and maintenance costs for each project, as well as an assessment of how it will affect the city’s tax base, including the impact of properties acquired to make room for it.
If public works agrees, the report would also explore options to have city staff to manage functional designs inhouse, without turning to consultants.
“I’m trying to get more information on the table and I would like us to not spend money until we know that there’s a political desire to pursue a project,” said Allard.
He estimates the city has spent several million dollars in recent years on consultant studies for major projects that remain unfunded, indefinitely postponed or cancelled. That includes $1.25 million to design a widening and grade separation for Marion Street. That project was abandoned in 2016, largely because its $566-million price was deemed too expensive, said Allard.
“I think (these proposed changes are) tightening up our processes so that we don’t spend money before
we need to do so,” Allard told his colleagues on the Riel community committee just before they approved the motion on Tuesday. “Why not save millions of dollars, do the political work and then actually build something?”
The councillor told the Free Press additional design work on the William R. Clement Parkway, Arlington Bridge, Kenaston Boulevard and Chief Peguis Trail cost a combined $7.9 million, while the related projects have yet to be pursued.
In an email, city spokesman Kalen Qually said the public service will review Allard’s specific motion.
However, Qually said functional and preliminary design studies are needed to develop cost estimates that are “suitable for budgeting purposes.”
He said such work often can’t be completed by city staff. “Many functional designs require specialized engineering expertise that may not exist within the public service. In addition, internal staff resources are not available to undertake the investigations necessary to develop many of these projects,” said Qually.
The statement cautioned against deeming the functional design spending to be a waste.
“Preliminary work may be completed well ahead of construction so it’s difficult to say certain projects won’t be completed,” he said.
The public works committee will consider Allard’s motion on June 9.