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What Regina mayoral candidates have planned for Ring Road rail lines

Click to play video 'What Regina mayoral candidates have planned for Ring Road rail lines' What Regina mayoral candidates have planned for Ring Road rail lines
WATCH: Those vying to be Regina's next mayor are on different tracks when it comes to rail lines.

Regina’s mayoral candidates are on different tracks when it comes to the city’s rail lines and Ring Road crossings.

On Wednesday, incumbent Michael Fougere announced that if re-elected, he will move forward with removing train tracks on Ring Road between Winnipeg Street and McDonald Street.

“I’ve committed to speeding this project up and to get it done,” Fougere said, adding that 63,000 people use the city’s Ring Road each day.

“That’s 63,000 people who are frustrated. Angry about the delays in stopping and getting where they need to go.”

Read more: City of Regina seeks approval from CN, CP to relocate train tracks on Ring Road

The crossings have long plagued Regina drivers, with frequent wait times of 15 to 20 minutes along a stretch of freeway with a 100 km/h speed limit.

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Fougere said Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific (CP) railways – which have lines in the proposed relocation areas – have agreed to move forward with the project, which began in 2018.

The incumbent added the project, which is in its $2-million preliminary design phase, had been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A semi-truck crashed into train at the Winnipeg rail crossing on Ring Road on Jan. 30, 2018.
A semi-truck crashed into train at the Winnipeg rail crossing on Ring Road on Jan. 30, 2018. Sarah Komadina/ Global News

“There’s definitely safety concerns. Again, people are frustrated waiting for this – they go through the ditch and turn the other way,” he said.

“There’s been some accidents at the rail crossing, two or three, that have been very concerning.”

He said once the designs are complete “sometime next year,” construction can begin. CN, CP and Transport Canada will have to approve that final plan before it can move ahead.

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Costs are also contingent on the preferred design, which Fougere estimated could range between $70 and $100-million.

Read more: Regina driver who fell asleep while waiting for passing train handed $280 ticket

Fougere said he will look to Transport Canada and other federal funding, along with support from the Government of Saskatchewan and City of Regina.

Mayoral candidate Jerry Flegel, who has served four terms as Ward 10 councillor, said Thursday he was surprised by Fougere’s announcement since council approved the project in August 2019.

“It was already in the works, it’s already going, we’ve already discussed it and he’s [putting] it out to the public like it’s brand new,” Flegel said.
“If he’s got some information that he’s not sharing with [current council], that could be. But none of us have heard it.”
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The candidate said he is in favour of the rail relocation plans, noting the costs of building traffic flow infrastructure such as underpasses or overpasses was just too high.

Flegel added that when council moved forward with the preliminary design phase, they were told the entire project would likely take seven years to complete.

“We’ve got it as a mandate from council – we have to look at all the funding models, all the design models,” he said.

“All the regulatory bodies have to be involved in this. It’s not just, ‘let’s rip the rail lines off Winnipeg Street and Ring Road,’ it’s a big decision.”

While mayoral candidate Jim Elliott likes the idea of relocation, he is also critical of Fougere’s timeline.

“I’m not sure, necessarily, what the push is for Mr. Fougere wanting to do it immediately,” Elliott said, adding the rail companies should help fund a project that benefits them.

Read more: Railways say Saskatoon’s plans to move train lines won’t work

“They are in essence getting a conflict removed from their process and therefore, you know, they won’t necessarily be having to worry about accidents and all that.”

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All candidates told Global News they agreed that all levels of government needed to be involved in funding a project of this size.

Candidates George Wooldridge, Sandra Masters and Tony Fiacco said that, if elected, they would consider building infrastructure around the rail lines, before relocation.

“On Ring Road, it’s underpass or overpass. Lifting all those lines, and they are important railway lines, is a fool’s game,” Wooldridge said.

“It’s going to be a huge money pit, because $100 million? I don’t think CP or CN are going to do it for that, so I think we’re really barking up the wrong tree.”

Read more: CN, CP show ‘very little willingness’ to fund rail relocation: Saskatoon mayor

The candidate worked for CN for eight years, CP for one year, in Regina until 2019. He said that relocating the lines would simply push the problem into a different area of the city.

While Masters’ platform includes working with the provincial and federal governments to move rail lines out of the city, she said she’s aware of the $1 billion price tag that comes with.

“Perhaps not something that is totally feasible. I said at the time, it’s a bold ambition. But the reality is that rail line – particularly the one downtown – it literally divides our city,” Masters said.

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The candidate said rail overpasses make the most sense in Regina, pointing to the example of the Albert Street rail bridge, adding voters should be weary of Fougere’s latest promise.

Read more: Mother hopes completed Ring Road light project will save lives, years after daughter dies in crash

“The citizens of Regina should have a hard look at the last eight years and determine what they’ve been promised, and what’s come to fruition,” she said.

Candidate Fiacco is not sold on the idea of prioritizing Ring Road rail crossings. He told Global News the concerns he hears most from residents involve commonly-used infrastructure.

“Let’s take care of our roads and our sidewalks. Let’s take care of our recreational facilities – then we will take a look at [rail lines],” he said.
“Once there’s money available, we will look at what the best solution for [Ring Road] is.”
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Fiacco acknowledged the inconvenience and frustration caused by the rail lines, and would be open to pursuing options with input from residents.

In an email statement to Global News on Thursday, candidate Mitchell Howse called Fougere’s pledge a “desperate attempt to get votes.”

“People see through it. To be honest, I don’t think he could do it. There are too many layers of government involved all the way up to the federal level along with independent private companies,” he said.

Howse also questioned how the incumbent would bankroll the project.

“I believe it’s just an empty promise. I’m sure every candidate would be willing to look into it, as would I, and consider other feasible options. But it’s got to make sense by having the taxpayer not stuck with another huge bill,” he said.

The municipal election is Nov. 9.

Click to play video 'Regina Mayor Michael Fougere wants property tax freeze as he seeks re-election' Regina Mayor Michael Fougere wants property tax freeze as he seeks re-election
Regina Mayor Michael Fougere wants property tax freeze as he seeks re-election