Wednesday, February 17, 2016

More on Winnipeg's Waverley Street Underpass

VIA's Canadian at the Waverley Street crossing
Winnipeg's planned $155 million Waverley Street underpass project hit a speed bump last week when the plan went before the Infrastructure Renewal and Public Works Committee (IRPWC) on Friday. I watched the meeting online. (read my previous post on the underpass)

The IRPWC Meeting

The meeting was chaired by Janice Lukes (my councillor, actually) and the other members of the committee are Shawn Dobson, Cindy Gilroy and Devi Sharma, all present for this meeting.

After a brief presentation on gravel roads, the main issue at hand, the underpass project, was addressed. There was one presenter.


Ken Klassen, a Certified Engineering Technologist (a research professional at Red River College), gave a lengthy but informative presentation on the underpass and raised a lot of questions about the project. He ran over time several times and finally Councillor Lukes decided to let him continue until he was done.

Mr. Klassen had questions about the city's capital project approval process. He said that capital project investments should show clear benefits, and this project has not shown those benefits, at least not in any public release of information. The city's transportation master plan

He compared the proposed $155 million cost (possibly +20%) to the Kenaston and Plessis underpass projects:

  • 2006 Kenaston underpass: $48 million, or $54 million in today's dollars
  • Current Plessis underpass project: $87 million at the moment and increasing

Both of those projects are similar to the proposed Waverley project in my opinion - Steve

Mr. Klassen said that no cost/benefit analysis has been shown. He also commented on the untendered $12.3 engineering design contract.

He also pointed out that city projects constantly going over budget undermine the public's confidence in city planning.

City Staffers

City staff were present to answer the councillors' questions. I wrote their names down quickly but I looked them up in the minutes to get their names right:

  • Ms. Watt, Senior Committee Clerk
  • Mr. McNeil, Chief Administrative Officer
  • Mr. Deane, Director of Public Works
  • Mr. Neirinck, Acting Manager of Engineering, Public Works
  • Mr. Chartier, Manager of Infrastructure Planning

I jotted down some quick points from the city staff:
  • The city uses "asset management criteria" instead of a cost/benefit analysis. There is a point system involving cost versus tax benefit.
    Funding is secured from provincial and federal governments for their portions.
  • It is "common practice" to give the detailed design contract to the preliminary design winner, and it is understood during the RFP process. I am not sure if it is explicitly stated in the RFP - Steve
The councillors had many questions about the cost/benefit analysis - the staff's response was that it is not done and not common in city planning.

Councillor Sharma asked why councillors were not being properly briefed; she argued that the March 24 2015 meeting was rushed and "not adequate". My favourite quote from her: "The process just stinks."

Chair suggested councillors can speak individually to administration officials. Coun. Sharma said this is inadequate and lacks the back and forth kind of discussion that a council meeting gives, when multiple councillors are present.

Councillor Dobson voiced a concern about the lack of updates from administration on major capital projects.

I noted that Councillor Lukes seemed very positive toward the city administration, and seemed to me to think the project is inevitable, given that funding is in place.


Finally a motion was made to forward the project to the city's Executive Policy Committee with a positive recommendation.

There were two "ayes" and two "nays" - a tie - so the motion was lost.

Immediately a motion was made to forward it with no recommendation. This passed.

The Executive Policy Committee

The city's Executive Policy Committee, a hand-picked subset of the full city council, passed the plan today after a presentation by Mr. Klassen and some discussion. I didn't watch this one.

Next Step

It goes to the full city council next week for final approval.

I still believe this project costs too much for the benefits it will deliver. The city has a lot of other projects on the go and we can't afford this.

See also:

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