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'It’s time to open Portage and Main to pedestrian traffic': Winnipeg mayor

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Winnipeg’s mayor said he is drafting a motion to reopen Portage and Main to pedestrians to dodge a multimillion-dollar repair bill and years of construction-related traffic delays.

Scott Gillingham made the announcement Friday morning at Winnipeg City Hall flanked by four fellow city councillors.

Gillingham said a new city report on traffic impacts and associated costs of repairing the waterproof membrane underneath the road surface outlines four to five years of construction-related traffic delays and could cost at least $73 million.

Beyond that, more costly repairs could be needed in 30 to 40 years time.

“I cannot support the status quo as outlined in the administrative report, and I believe that for the benefit of commuters and businesses and residents and taxpayers, we need to pursue a more practical alternative,” he said.

“It’s time to open Portage and Main to pedestrian traffic.”

Gillingham said he’s working with Coun. Sherri Rollins to draft a motion that recommends the city open Portage and Main to pedestrian crossings by the summer of 2025 to coincide with the launch of the city’s new transit network.

The mayor said he knows there will be members of council, including those in his own executive policy committee, who will reject this approach.

He also acknowledges voters will wonder about the 2018 plebiscite, which found 65 per cent of voters wanted to keep the barricades up.

It’s a fair question, he said, but notes lots has changed in six years. He said the construction timeline and costs associated with repairing the membrane were not known then or during the last civic election.

The pandemic has also changed commuting patterns, he says, creating lower traffic volumes through the intersection and less rush hour traffic.

“I think if voters did have that information in 2018, I think they probably would have made a different choice. I know I would have.”

Moreover, Gillingham said the intersection, which has been closed since 1979, has consumed so much attention and energy over the years, to the point of being distracting.

The long and winding history of Portage and Main

The move to reopen comes after the city released different planning options for the contentious intersection in April 2023.

A waterproof membrane underneath the road surface and the barricades that block pedestrian traffic need to be replaced. At the time, the city said it wanted to use the project to spruce up the intersection.

The options outlined replacing the barriers with bollards or fencing, which could be opened up for special events.

While the project did not include opening the intersection to pedestrian crossings, the report said it was raised during consultations.

City councillors Rollins and Cindy Gilroy also put forward a motion in May to the public works committee to see what it would cost to allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross on the street and the impacts that would have on vehicle traffic.

And of course, there was the 2018 civic election and plebiscite on this very issue – the first the city had seen in 35 years.

Then re-elected mayor Brian Bowman said although the results were non-binding, he promised he would honour them.

- With files from CTV's Jeff Keele

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