Plans to build an underpass at Waverley and Taylor aren’t off the rails yet, but they may be at a crossroads.
For the second time in a few weeks, the city’s infrastructure committee has refused to sign off on funding for the $155 million project.
Instead, councillors on the committee spent the afternoon peppering high ranking bureaucrats with tough questions. Most of them focused on why the project had been chosen as such a high priority.
One committee member, councillor Devi Sharma of Old Kildonan lead the charge. The usually quiet councillor, in her second term, railed against city admin. She says councillors are being kept in the dark on many of the finer points.
“I’m not saying this isn’t a worthwhile project but the process stinks,” she told them.
Sharma is pushing for a councillor seminar where bureaucrats and all councillors meet behind closed doors to ask questions and have them answered.
City Chief Administrative Officer Doug McNeil says he doesn’t think that’s necessary but he’s happy to take the tough questions.
“It’s every citizen’s right to question the public service,” he says. “Are we doing the right things? Are we spending taxpayers’ money correctly? I welcome that. We don’t always get everything right but I think we are right on this project.”
A ranking list of high priority infrastructure projects for the city, released last year, put the Waverley Underpass in top spot, ahead of widening Kenaston, improvements to the intersection of Marion and Archibald and extending Chief Peguis Trail.
McNeil did admit today the city doesn’t do true cost/benefit analyses on projects.
Two councillors on the committee, Chairperson Janice Lukes of St. Norbert and Cindy Gilroy from Daniel McIntyre did vote in favour of the funding but Sharma and St. Charles Councillor Shawn Dobson voted against it. City hall rules mean a tie results in the motion failing to pass.
But this doesn’t mean the underpass won’t get built.
The matter still moves ahead to Executive Policy Committee next week, where it is likely to get more support from Mayor Brian Bowman and his inner circle. It would then go before city council for a final vote on February 24th.
Lukes says it would be a surprise if the underpass didn’t get the green light but, “nothing is for sure at city hall.”
The federal and provincial governments have already promised their share of funding. Construction is slated to start next year with a completion target of 2019.