Survey to allow input into options for intersection

New vision for P&M coming next week

A LONG-AWAITED vision to revamp the iconic Portage Avenue and Main Street intersection will be released to the public Tuesday.

In 2021, the City of Winnipeg hired a consultant to provide options to improve the above-ground crossing and its “pedestrian environment.”

A request for proposal noted the design should also be adaptable to potentially let pedestrians cross at street level on a temporary basis, such as for special events, without permanently restoring that access (which was blocked in 1979).

On April 25, the city will release design options for the site, along with an online public survey.

“We’ve known for a lot of years that there needs to be repairs to Portage and Main, and we did call for a report to come back two years ago, so we’re going to get it soon,” said Mayor Scott Gillingham, who declined to share further details.

The consultant was also tasked with providing options to replace a waterproof membrane that separates the underground concourse from the road above, which has been deemed beyond its useful life.

A preliminary estimate found it could cost between $15 million and $20 million, according to a 2019 engineering report.

Since the 40-year-old membrane is located two to three metres below the pavement and can only be accessed from above, “any investment in streetscape design enhancements will need to be co-ordinated with membrane renewal work,” the RFP notes.

Coun. Jeff Browaty said councillors expect to receive updated cost estimates for replacing the membrane later this year — though there is now some sense of what the intersection might look like after current barricades at the surface are replaced.

“Subject to what the public comes back with (as input), I think the thinking is that the new barricades… will be more visually appealing,” said Browaty.

He expects it could include options for a transparent material that can be altered to allow foot traffic during special events.

Browaty, who has been a vocal opponent in the sometimes heated debate on reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians, said he remains concerned doing so full-time would wreak havoc with traffic.

“I have zero appetite to the opening of the intersection to regular pedestrian crossings during the day.”

However, Browaty said, he is now open to exploring whether pedestrians could cross the intersection at the surface overnight, when traffic volumes are lower.

In the middle of the night, when the traffic impact isn’t going to be material… there’s really no cost, in terms of… making physical changes to the intersection (once it is altered).”

The North Kildonan councillor said there may be a growing need for overnight pedestrian access because the underground concourse at Portage and Main was open 24-7 before the COVID-19 pandemic, but is now restricted to daily hours of 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

“So, in the middle of the night, you literally do have to go and walk several extra blocks to get through that intersection,” said Browaty.

Supporters of reopening the intersection to pedestrians argue doing so would better connect downtown, making it more walkable and vibrant.

The consultant was not asked to create a plan for a permanent reopening of the intersection to pedestrians. The report notes 65 per cent of Winnipeggers voted against the reopening in a 2018 plebiscite.

Meanwhile, a councillor whose ward includes part of downtown, said she fears the feedback of residents who live closest to the intersection won’t be privileged over other public input — even though consultations on intersections outside downtown focus more on immediate neighbours.

“It can be very frustrating, as a downtown councillor, to… understand there are shared interests there, but… watch your residents take back seat to the discussions of whether or not they can cross a street near where they live,” said Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry). Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga