Browaty stirs up emotions with “bike tunnel” ad
By: Sheldon Birnie
Plans to include an active transportation link and emergency corridor beneath an elevated interchange at Highway 59 and the Perimeter Highway have come under fire from one Winnipeg city councillor.
But Manitoba government and RM of East St. Paul officials say Browaty is being alarmist.
Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) took out a full page ad in last week’s issue of* The Herald* calling on premier Greg Selinger not to "waste $$$ on (a) bike tunnel."
"Originally proposed as a simple active transportation bridge over the Perimeter Highway by the NDP during the 2011 provincial election," Browaty’s statement reads, "the revised proposal is calling for an elaborate tunnel, costing $10’s (sic) of millions of dollars and routing thousands of vehicles daily onto residential streets in North Kildonan and East St. Paul."
"The money could be better spent," Browaty told* The Herald*, saying he believes upgrades to Lagimodiere Boulevard and Henderson Highway are more deserving of public investment.
Lance Vigfusson, assistant deputy minister of Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, and Shelley Hart, mayor of East St. Paul, both said Browaty made incorrect and misleading statements in his ad and subsequent press release.
"For one, this is not a tunnel," Hart told *The Herald*. "It’s a level-grade crossing. The new cloverleaf (interchange) will be above it."
Vigfusson explained that, in order to deliver on the 2011 promise of an active transportation connection "there were two options" when designing that link into plans for the upgraded interchange at the Perimeter and Highway 59.
"One option was up and over the Perimeter," Vigfusson said. "The other was taking the Perimeter up and over, making the active transportation corridor as a through path, not a tunnel."
After consulting with trucking industry representatives, the province determined that a bridge over the Perimeter which could accommodate large, oversize loads would be the more difficult of the two options.
"We would have had to build with at least seven metres of clearance," he said.
As a result, he explained, the overpass would have been "approximately nine metres above the ground," making it impractical for active transportation. Keeping the active transportation corridor at grade was the option selected.
As a result of Browaty’s ad, some North Kildonan residents have expressed concern that the proposed transportation link will increase traffic in the residential area along Raleigh Street and Gateway Road south of the perimeter.
"This’ll increase traffic flow," said Ross Campbell, who lives near the intersection of Gateway and Knowles Avenue.
"Traffic will in turn create problems in residential areas. All in all, I do not believe the province or East St. Paul put any thought into it."
Vigfusson stressed that the active transportation corridor will not create additional traffic headaches as it won’t be open to commuter traffic. It will be made wide enough to accommodate emergency vehicles, which would access it via a gated system.
Vigfusson did say that, if the city of Winnipeg and the RM of East St. Paul decide to open the corridor to regular vehicle traffic in the future, the costs to upgrade would be minimized.
"We designed this (interchange) to last for 75 years," he explained. "If ever East St. Paul and the city want to convert it down the line, it would cost a fraction of overall cost to do it now, rather than retrograde."
Vigfusson said he believes Browaty’s estimate of thousands of vehicles "that number is highly exaggerated."
"From where we’re standing, we applaud the province’s foresight," East St. Paul mayor Hart said.
Longtime East St. Paul resident Gary Alderson agreed.
"The option of going with a two-lane underpass is probably, if you look down the road, a good idea," Alderson told *The Herald*. "To me, this is good planning. Sure, it’ll cost residents here a few million bucks, and it’ll cost the province. But that’s inevitable if you’re going to do something like this."
The province is now awaiting final proposals for the Highway 101/59 interchange as part of the competitive process. Vigfusson said a proposal should be selected by June and hopes to see construction begin at the end of summer. He expects the project to take three to four years to complete.
"We have a lot of bridges and lanes to build," he said. "And a lot of dirt to move."