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Portage and Main could re-open by fall 2019

A Winnipeg city councillor said its time to take the question of reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians, to voters.
A Winnipeg city councillor said its time to take the question of reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians, to voters. Jordan Pearn/Global News

The re-opening of Portage and Main has a new timeline.

Pedestrians could start walking across the easternmost crossing as early as fall 2019.

That’s the goal set out by the city in a Request for Proposal (RFP) asking for bids on the construction and design of the intersection.

READ MORE: City could spend more than $11M to begin the process of opening Portage and Main

Phase one would include the opening of the crossing between the Richardson Building and the Bank of Montreal.

“It’s a target, and we like to give our consultants targets as to what they’re working towards. It’s not a hard date,” Winnipeg CAO Doug McNeil explained .

“Any work that’s done there, in terms of re-opening Portage and Main, would have to be approved by council. Council’s direction was to go back, do some more engineering, get them some cost estimates, bring that information back for approval. That’s what our plan is, and that’s what this next stage is.”

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The winning bidder would be tasked with coming up with a schedule for taking down all the barriers, but does not contain any actual construction work.

Another RFP would be issued down the road for actual work to be done, both above-ground and to address the deteriorating Winnipeg Square underground.

“Every time it rains, you get water damage coming from the public space into the private property,” Mayor Brian Bowman said. “Most places in the city, if that were occurring, property owners wouldn’t be very happy about the neglect that’s been caused by decades of decay. Some of them are more hawkish on getting it open sooner rather than later.”

Councillor Jeff Browaty has been outspoken at every turn about his desire to keep Portage and Main closed, though he did post a photo on Twitter of himself celebrating at the intersection after the Jets eliminated Nashville.

He wants to hold a vote at the next council meeting on whether or not to proceed with the project, pointing to a section of a recent consulting report to bolster his concerns.

READ MORE: City commissions second study to examine re-opening Portage and Main to pedestrians

“There are risks in creating an unusual intersection that does not meet driver expectations by being inconsistent with other intersections in Winnipeg,” the Dillon Consulting report explained. “This scenario would be created if only some of the pedestrian crosswalks were opened.”

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The project was initially approved in October 2017, citing this report.

“I am particularly concerned that the Dillon report, prepared by well-respected professional engineers, is being ignored and a potentially dangerous scenario is being considered,” Browaty explained. “Allowing pedestrians to cross one section introduces both confusion for motorists and encourages pedestrians to consider dangerous crossings that are not open.”

Council has already approved $1.5 million for engineering work, $500,000 for new sidewalks, $1.5 million to upgrade the underground concourse, bringing the grand total of approved spending to $3.5 million.

Opening Portage and Main was one of Brian Bowman’s platforms when he ran for mayor in 2014, but he insisted this process is not political.

“If I was thinking politically about this issue during this term, I would have pushed harder to have it open to pedestrians sooner. The responsible thing to do is to take a phased-in approach,” Bowman said.

“Let’s do the appropriate work: pedestrian safety, transit, design work, work with the stakeholders. Much more politically expedient for myself during this term would be to just get it dealt with before an election, and we haven’t taken that approach.”

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Whoever wins the bidding process will be asked to submit a draft report by the end of October, right after this fall’s civic election.

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A final report will be due to the city in December.