A city report has reignited debate between social advocates, city councillors and federal politicians about the future of two overlapping examples of Winnipeg at its aesthetic worst - the Arlington Street Bridge and the Canadian Pacific Railway yards.
In late February, the city said it will have to replace or decommission the 101-year-old bridge by 2020.
Christina Maes Nino, a policy analyst at the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, is calling on the city to take a step back to consider the future of the yards below the bridge before it moves forward.
“If a (new) bridge is going to last 100 years, are the yards going to last 100 years?” Nino said in an interview with The Uniter.
“Do we need something now and do we need to keep people safe now? Yes. We need to have more of a conversation before jumping into anything. The whole process right now is not based on future needs - it’s based on past needs.”
Nino acknowledges the one-and-a-half square-kilometre industrial swath separating the North End from the inner city is unlikely to change hands from the private shipping company to the city any time soon.
Nino hopes the bridge planning process will take into consideration possible reconfigurations of the area down the line.
“Typically, what we’ve done in Winnipeg is just tried to get funds for things and built them every chance we can get, without thinking about what, in the long term, do we want there, and what are our priorities for future funding?”
However, Point Douglas Coun. Mike Pagtakhan says a future where CP leaves the land is farther off than many would hope.
“I’ve talked with (CP) twice now, and basically their short term plan is to stay there for the next 100 years,” Pagtakhan said.
Pagtakhan called himself a “big proponent” of long-term planning, and supports the idea of redeveloping the yards.
“But, if you have a party that’s not interested in moving down a certain path, you’re banging your head against a wall,” he said.
“Those types of exercises where people are talking about redevelopment are awesome and I always encourage it, but we have to be realistic.”
Recent studies show more than 15,000 vehicles cross the bridge on an average day, Pagtakhan said.
Given the archaic design of the current structure, Pagtakhan favours a complete re-build, noting priority must be given for transit optimization, proper accessibility and safety for wheelchair-users, pedestrians and cyclists for whatever replaces it.
“ If a (new) bridge is going to last 100 years, are the yards going to last 100 years?
Christina Maes Nino, policy analyst, Social Planning Council of Winnipeg
“Right now there’s such a huge movement with connectivity through active transportation, and I really want the bridge to work with that,” he said.
“We have a responsibility to our citizens that we maintain that connectivity between the inner city and the North End.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury of time, because 2020 is coming quickly, and that’s when something has to happen (or else the bridge will be decommissioned).
“We’ve got to bring it into the future.”
While there are no official cost estimates to replace the bridge, Pagtakhan guesses a new bridge of the type he described would cost roughly the same as the Disraeli Bridge - $195 million.
Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin (NDP), a long-time proponent of relocating the yards, said the city should be focusing its efforts on erasing the need for the Arlington Bridge in the first place.
“There is no business case for spending more money on a bridge when everyone knows the solution is to tear up the tracks,” Martin said.
“We should tell the CPR - never mind asking the CPR - to get their tracks out of the city, because we need that land more than they do.”
Martin argues the city should invoke the Railway Relocation and Crossing Act, whereby the Federal government could cover 50 per cent of relocation costs, to pressure CP to relocate to CentrePort just west of the city proper.
However, he thinks doing so will require a grassroots, citizen-powered approach.
“We’ve had no (political) leadership on this whatsoever,” Martin said.
The city of Regina is in the process of relocating its mid-city CP rail yards at a cost of over $500 million.
When asked for comment, a representative from CP confirmed the company “has no intentions of relocating (the Winnipeg) operation”.