Rapid Transit in Winnipeg becoming a reality

Students can expect the much anticipated rapid transit system to become a reality in the near future, but will have to wait for a connection directly to the Fort Garry campus.
Construction is currently underway on stage one of the southwest rapid transit corridor, the first phase of the rapid transit system for Winnipeg.

This includes a transit way between Queen Elizabeth Way and Stradbrook, new rapid transit stations at Harkness, Osbourne and in the Fort Rouge yards, and new active transportation pathways.

When implemented, stage two of the project will extend the transit way and active transportation pathway south of Jubilee to Bison Drive near Pembina Highway.
Stage one may not extend service directly to the Fort Garry campus, but should make public transit significantly more accessible nonetheless.

“It’ll improve the service in the sense that in the north part of the Pembina Highway corridor, the buses will be operating in their own right of way, so that they’ll have faster trips and more reliable trips in the sense that they won’t get bogged down in traffic congestion,” said Bill Menzies, manager of service development for Winnipeg Transit.

Stage one is expected to be completed by 2011, but before stage two can be implemented more funding is needed from the federal government.

Paul Hesse, chair of the Winnipeg Rapid Transit Coalition, explained, “The first thing that’s needed in order to get to stage two [ . . . ] would be for the federal government to offer to partner with the city and the province on that, so they need to be willing to put some of their infrastructure money towards that.
“They do have money. They’re finding lots of money in infrastructure. It’s just a matter of saying ‘yeah, this is a priority that we care about,’” he continued.

Thus far the federal government has only committed to a portion of stage one funding, but have not committed to funding stage two of the southwest rapid transit corridor project.
“The city has asked them to fund it and so far they haven’t,” said Hesse.

“I’m looking for the federal government to commit to it the same way that the city and province have.”

Sid Rashid, University of Manitoba Students’ Union president, said he was pleased to see concrete progress towards rapid transit in Winnipeg.

“I think the first step is always the most important, and we finally have a concrete first step. The city has said we do want to make this a priority and this is the first stage so hopefully developments will fall into place after that.”

While students should soon find public transit more accessible and effective, the U-pass is still a long way away.

“I hope that one day we will have an affordable, well subsidized U-Pass option for students, but that is definitely in the long-term future,” said Rashid.

“When this rapid transit gets built, and hopefully it will extend all the way to Fort Garry, I think that’s the time to bring it up again with the student body. In the end the student body has to make the decision on that.”

The light rail transit system may still be possible, although it would require a much larger funding increase and would depend on how densely Winnipeg develops in the future.
“If there’s a very high density development, then perhaps a fixed guide-way system [(similar to Vancouver’s sky train)]might become viable,” said Menzies.

“It all depends on how much growth there is and how viable it is.”

Stage one is currently being designed in a way that would be compatible with the adaptation to a light rail system in the future, but is a few years away.