Dear Winnipeg

A Fun Blog About Infrastructure and Municipal Finance

How To Save the Norwood Pool

Dear Winnipeg,

I’m sorry I forgot about Valentine’s Day and didn’t get you anything. To be fair, you didn’t get me anything either, except for a $100,000 invoice for my share of road renewal. [Not nearly as good as the last valentine you gave me: “I love you a LOT!”, and there’s a picture of an infill development plan!]

So the news is out that you’ve decided to close the Norwood Pool (again), and I hear the residents there are not pleased. That’s not surprising. My neighbourhood went through the same kind of heartbreak over a decade ago with the closure of the Kelvin Community Centre. We feel their pain. [It was devastating… we were a complete rec.]

The reason given is the same that’s always given: there’s no money. Maintaining the pool would cost between $30,000 and $50,000 per year, and that’s only after nearly $2 million in repairs are completed. An entirely new pool would cost about $6 million. [Whatever happened to For richer or for poorer? I guess you can put a price on love…]

And yet, there’s the Kenaston widening project on the books. $450 million dollars to add an extra lane in each direction to about 3 km of road. Even if you live with Mr. Roarke and Tattoo and the other two levels of government each kick in for a third of the project, that still works out to a cool $150 million for your share. So like, 75 Norwood Pool repairs. [Is that Oprah I hear coming?]

But wait, that’s just the cost for the initial construction of the Kenaston extension. As we both know by now, the instant you build a new piece of infrastructure, you have to start putting money aside every year for its eventual replacement. I’ve used 2% before (replacement every 50 years), but developers are using 4% in some of their cost-benefit analyses. So let’s just split the difference and use 3%.

That means as soon as we’ve built the Kenaston extension, we have to start putting aside 3% x $450 million every year just for its eventual replacement at the end of its life-cycle (that doesn’t even include maintenance). So $13.5 million per year.

That’s a boat-load of money. [Or a pool-full, some Norwood residents might say.]

With that kind of money, we could just build a completely new Norwood Pool.

Every.

Single.

Year.

But hold on, Oprah.

Don’t we need those extra lanes on Kenaston? After all, there is a lot more traffic there now that we’ve started building out Waverley West.

And as we continue to build out Waverley West, traffic will just continue to get worse. Ergo, the extra lanes.

But surely, there have to be cheaper ways of moving more cars through that 3-km strip of Kenaston. Fear not, my dear city, there are!

I found this sweet 2015 Freightliner 114SD with CX09 Cottrell Car Hauler for sale for only $200,000. It’s used, yes, but looks to be in nice condition (the engine warranty is still good for nearly another year), but here’s the best part: it carries 9 cars! And at 44′ 4″ long, it takes up as much road space as only 2 to 3 standard-sized cars.

My idea is this: we set up a ferry type of system, but with these car carriers instead of boats. We line them up, bumper-to-bumper, over 1 lane in each direction of that 3-km stretch, and then they just run in a circle, carrying 9 cars each. We’d need about 90 per lane, so 180 x $200,000 = about $36 million. That’s less than a quarter of the cost of building the new lanes (assuming a three-way cost-share with Brian and Justin), leaving $114 million on the table for (nearly) as many Norwood Pools as we like.

[Wow, the Kenaston widening is looking like a real dog of an investment now, isn’t it?]

Of course car haulers like this don’t last as long as roads do, so we definitely can’t use 3% for our replacement fund, but even at 33% (replacement every 3 years), that puts us at $12 million, so still less than the ongoing money required from the road widening. We could use the leftover $1.5 million every year to buy a boat! [A love boat?]

But of course, that’s ludicrous, isn’t it?

Yes, it is. Because we’re trying to solve the wrong problem. It’s not the cars that need to get places, it’s the people. So why are we focusing on solutions centered around moving more cars, when we should be looking for solutions that move more people?

Oh, if only there was a technology that existed that was similar to our car carrier solution, except for people instead of cars…

Right, there are lots! Buses, streetcars, trains, trolleys, subways, light-rail, gondolas, hay wagons, giant inflatable bananas, and so many more.

To move 50% more people over Kenaston using buses would require maybe 35 extra buses, at a total purchase cost of $17.5 million, with an annual operating cost of $11.6 million.

That’s a lot of savings that could go towards the Norwood Pool. Or any other neighbourhood amenity we care about.

Or you can use all our money to move an ever-increasing number of cars. In reality, more than all our money.

[Seriously… heart-2-heart time. You need to stop making these kinds of poor investment choices. This is why we can’t have nice things.]

Closing the Norwood Pool didn’t just happen recently. You’ve been slowly closing it ever since the 1950s. And you continue to do so every time you solve the wrong problem with the wrong infrastructure.

Every time you build new roads rather than finding a better way to move people, you close the Norwood Pool.

Every time you expand the city’s footprint by building a new development, you close the Norwood Pool.

Every time you oppose infill, you close the Norwood Pool.

So how about you do the smart thing: cancel the Kenaston widening and build a new pool? [I know a great location in Elmwood!]

Love,

Elmwood Guy