Winnipeg dawdles on offer of free amber school zone lights: ‘It makes no sense at all’

It's still unclear if the city will take up a Winnipeg man's offer to install free flashing lights in the city's school zones. The Canadian Press

Four years after a Winnipeg man offered to supply, install, and maintain flashing amber lights across the city’s school zones at his own expense, it’s still unclear when — or if — they’ll ever be set up.

Chuck Lewis, owner of Expert Electric, says he has no idea why the plan is being held up.

“If we started four years ago we’d have half of Winnipeg done already,” Lewis says.

“And at this point, we have none of Winnipeg done.”

READ MORE: Winnipeg councillor throwing support behind free lights-in-school-zones idea

Lewis says the last he heard was that the city wanted to test the lights for a month, so he brought them a pair in early fall.

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“Even during the heavy snow storm that was causing all that damage, they worked perfectly fine,” Lewis says.

He says he’s now becoming frustrated and is beginning to wonder if he’ll retire before he can see the project through.

“My biggest problem is, when you watch the news all you see is the negatives of Winnipeg — the meth crisis, the fire department being taxed, city council cutting this or that — all these negatives that are happening,” Lewis said, “and you’ve got one positive where someone is going to give the city something that’s going to save lives of children in school zones and they’re balking at it.

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“It makes no sense at all.”

Kevin Klein, councillor for the Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood area, brought the project back to life earlier this year by putting forward the motion, and is also at a loss.

“I’m just at my wit’s end,” Klein says. “I don’t know how an organization this size can operate the way that it does.”

Lewis is now encouraging people to phone their city councilors to turn up the pressure and get the initiative rolling. He says he has two sets of the solar-powered lights ready to go, and when given the word would begin ordering more.

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READ MORE: City of Winnipeg gives green light to school speed zone project

“This is a resident wanting to help putting up amber lights in school zones, which we see all across North America, but all of a sudden because it’s not someone who has the office upstairs’ idea, it doesn’t happen,” Klein says.

“And this is something so minor, so minor, and it makes so much sense I think it frightens the current administration, because what will happen if this actually works? Now what? How do we defend ourselves?”

The Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, Heritage and Downtown Development was tasked with reviewing the offer, and on Nov. 18, 2019, granted a 30-day extension for the Winnipeg Public Service to decide on terms for the agreement.

Brian Mayes is the councillor for the St. Vital ward and also chairs the committee.

He says at the most recent meeting on Jan. 6, members voted to grant a further 60-day extension so the traffic division can get in touch with Lewis and iron out the details.

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“We’re often accused of opening new projects and not thinking about how we’re going to maintain them,” Mayes says.

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“So we’re trying to avoid that. Here we’re trying to just be clear, let’s get some kind of legal document negotiated.”

Mayes says they want to make it crystal clear for all involved exactly how many lights Lewis would be providing, how long he would be responsible for maintenance, and what the extent of the maintenance would look like.

But Mayes admits it isn’t quite as simple of a task as it may appear.

“I don’t want to say it’s just technical and we’re almost there, because it may be more than that,” Mayes says.

Mayes says as far as he and the city are concerned, the lights are a good, effective idea, but they need to know what they’re signing on to.

He adds he wasn’t aware of the original offer from Lewis.

“If I had been trying to donate something for four years I’d be frustrated too, that’s a fair comment,” Mayes says.

Click to play video: 'Preventing traffic accidents in school zones' Preventing traffic accidents in school zones
Preventing traffic accidents in school zones – Aug 30, 2019

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