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Portage and Main: Consider the facts


Portage and Main: Let's consider the facts
Portage and Main

By: Guest Columnist - Kevin Klein


Winnipeg, March 8, 2024 - The Portage and Main intersection debate has taken center stage, sparking intense discussion and division in the media and online. But why is this debate so significant? As Mayor Gillingham rightly pointed out, it's just an intersection, and most of us rarely use it. However, the debate's importance lies in its implications for our city and its future.


Let’s look at this from a practical standpoint based on facts—no political agenda, no hard left or right perspective. As it was often said in the 1970s hit TV show Dragnet, just the facts, Mame. The facts will allow you to shut down the noise and make an informed decision independently, free from influence by media biases or social media noise.


We were presented with more evidence about the staggering financial implications of the underground concourse. The City of Winnipeg bears an annual cost of nearly $1 million. This revelation comes on the heels of a warning that potential repairs to the underground could result in a hefty $73 million expense for taxpayers. These figures should raise concerns about the city's financial health and the burden it places on its residents.


According to officials, between 2018 and 2023, operating expenses for the underground concourse, encompassing security, maintenance, cleaning services, and utilities, consistently exceeded rental income by an average of $965,832 annually. Meaning, it provides no positive return for residents. However, if the cost to maintain it is $74 million, and we continue to lose $1 million a year, it would be impossible to see a positive financial return on maintaining the structure as is. A losing proposition if you will.


Now, here's the less-talked-about aspect you need to consider while forming your own opinion: What are the costs associated with decommissioning the concourse under Portage and Main and the necessary pedestrian infrastructure implementation?


According to the report presented at City Hall today, Dillon's 2017 report estimated the cost of establishing crosswalks at approximately $5 million, covering the removal of barricades/planters, sidewalk installation, and signalization. An updated 2024 estimate suggests a figure of approximately $10 million (Class 5) based on the summer/fall construction schedule and a projected 12 to 14-month project timeline.


The report rightly acknowledges the decommissioning cost of the underground concourse, a subject often overlooked in the noise surrounding this debate. The Public Service report indicates a potential $50 million expense to fill in the concourse, though it necessitates further examination. However, with no yearly losses to the city finances, each year it remains closed, financially, the city wins with an added $ 1 million per year in savings. This could be seen as an investment in the city's future, potentially paying for itself in sixty years.


Now we also learned through the report that the property owners have yet to discuss the option of closure and filling in the concourse entirely, leaving the importance of concourse connectivity to them uncertain. This highlights the need for community engagement and the potential impact it could have on the final decision.


The reported cost to maintain the status quo is $74 million, plus, plus, plus for many years to come. This includes ongoing concourse operations losses and the necessity to replace the membrane every forty years. Conversely, the estimated cost of opening the area to pedestrians, as per the report's figures, could amount to $60 million and save $1 million a year in not having ongoing costs every year.


Considering the above, Mayor Gillingham is making an informed reasonable decision that is in the city's best interest.


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