Active transportation in Winnipeg is caught between a parked car and the curb when it comes to finishing key infrastructure projects before federal funding runs dry next spring. The sudden cancelation of the Bannatyne-McDermot bikeway this week underlines the difficulties faced by the City’s planning process. The unrealistically short timeline associated with federal Economic Action Plan grants forced an abbreviated process for every stage of consultation, tendering and construction. This left the City’s consultation process rushed and challenged its ability to complete the projects in the face of Winnipeg’s short construction season.
Two of the 37 bicycle-related projects have been cancelled and several others have come under attack as a result. Winnipeggers deserve a process that will ensure that infrastructure projects address community needs and concerns. At the same time, Winnipeg desperately needs to complete its cycling network to modernize its transportation system for a world with a changing climate.
Meanwhile, with the City facing a multi-billion dollar accumulated shortfall on infrastructure, support from other levels of government is needed. The Economic Action Plan made more than 20 million dollars available for bike projects in Winnipeg, a greater than six_fold increase over previous years. This funding, however, was constrained by a pressure-cooker timeline that almost guaranteed conflict. The funding was announced in September 2009 and ends in March 2011, providing just over a year to complete all stages of the projects before winter 2010 brings the construction season to a halt.
Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty opened the door for municipalities to seek breathing space in completing projects when he announced this week that the federal government would be “fair and reasonable” with communities completing projects beyond the March 31 deadline. The City should seek clarity on how this applies to projects in Winnipeg. Flaherty singled out communities in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland which might not finish projects on time because of flooding or from dealing with the effects of hurricane Igor. Winnipeg’s especially short construction season, even in good years, should be grounds for leeway on deadlines also. Winnipeg should ask the minister to extend the federal deadline to ensure that the city receives value for money and is able to bring all sectors of the community on board.
Active transportation is a necessary part of building a sustainable Winnipeg. Green Action Centre urges all candidates to signal their intention to make the completion of the City’s active transportation network a priority. Done properly, walking and cycling infrastructure will improve the environment, ease traffic flows and offer opportunities for local businesses. We cannot afford to let an artificial timeline set by Ottawa force us to hit the brakes on our transportation future.