Dear Winnipeg

A Fun Blog About Infrastructure and Municipal Finance

A Tale of Two Bridges

Dear Winnipeg,

They say that in theory, an infinite amount of monkeys typing on an infinite amount of keyboards for an infinite amount of time will eventually type out all of the world’s great literary works. [It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times?! You stupid monkey!]

In reality, you get mostly gibberish, and a broken and pooped on keyboard. [Sooo much monkey poop.]

I like to believe that’s how your infrastructure replacement plan was written. [Meaning it amounts to nonsense, not that it is necessarily covered in macaque manure. Although it could be, I just haven’t checked.]

How do you flush this thing?

And what else could I believe? City engineers are saying we need to get started on the replacement of the Arlington Bridge, because it is at the end of its useful life.

And they’ve already closed part of the Louise Bridge because it is literally falling into the river.

But we’re told there’s no money for these projects. [To be fair, their replacement really did come out of nowhere… we’ve only had just over 100 years to prepare for it.]

But here’s the kicker: apparently we want to spend money instead on either the Chief Peguis extension, the Kenaston widening, or the Marion Street widening.

Whaaa?!?!

We can’t afford our current infrastructure, so rather than repair it, we plan to build more new infrastructure? Sounds like a pile of gorilla guano to me. [Bet you didn’t realize there were so many great ways to talk about monkey poop, eh?]

It’s like if I can’t pay my hydro bill, and instead I decide to go and buy a new TV.

Or I can’t afford to pay my storage locker rental, so instead I’ll buy all 10,000 episodes of Coronation Street on DVD.

Or if I can’t pay my mortgage, so instead I’ll go get drunk in Bronson, Missouri for the weekend.

I think you get the picture.

Look, I know it’s hard to be a sensible adult, and to meet all your financial obligations faithfully and responsibly. Because the allure of shiny, new stuff is just soooo hard to resist.

So even though you already have $35 Billion of infrastructure you can’t afford to maintain and replace, I will humour you. Let’s at least hear out the hard-working city engineers and councillors that are recommending we prioritize the Chief Peguis extension (for example).

Here are a few quotes from the most recent meeting of the Standing Policy Committee on Infrastructure Renewal and Public Works:

The majority of the traffic on this Chief Peguis is going to be new traffic from new development.

— City of Winnipeg Traffic Engineer on why the Chief Peguis extension is needed

Businesses like Costco, for example, I mean, they want roadways like this built. There’s going to be a whole lot more traffic as a result of businesses like that setting up. Businesses like that also don’t want to come unless there’s an extension like this, a promise for it to be built.

— Councillor Devi Sharma

The Coles Notes: we need this new road to accommodate the traffic that will be the result of the new development that this road will make possible.

So we need this road because of… this road?

Despite this dizzying display of circular logic, the councillor goes on:

There’s great development in the south, IKEA, the outlet mall, etc, we’d like those kinds of things in the north as well…

— Councillor Devi Sharma

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere! And that somewhere is Math-ville!

We’ve talked before how IKEA doesn’t pay its way, but here we’ve been given a golden opportunity to look at it with fresh eyes!

  • The new Chief Peguis extension is expected to be approximately 10-km long, at a cost of roughly $450 million.
  • Using a conservative 25-year replacement cycle, and the current taxation rate, you’d need to create just over $3 Billion in property value simply to cover the replacement of this road at the end of its useful life.
  • Based on the 27.1 acres of land the current south side IKEA uses, it looks like you can fit about 30 IKEAS along this new extension, for a total assessment base of $45.176 million x 30 = $1.36 Billion.

So the math says the taxes from the 30 IKEAs you can fit onto this road won’t even cover a third of its replacement cost when the time comes. Never mind the city services they’ll require throughout all that time. And that’s also assuming they’re all fully built and paying taxes in year 1 of the opening of your fancy extended road.

Oops. Looks like you stepped in some choice capuchin caca here. [Another monkey poop reference?! I know, I thought I would have run out by now too!]

It’s clear that building this road will make you poorer. So don’t do it.

As the old adage says, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. If you can’t afford the infrastructure you already have, don’t build any more.

No new roads. It really is that simple.

Fortunately, there is hope that some of the decision makers involved are seeing clearly:

Our debt ceiling is at $150 million […] There isn’t an understanding out there that […] we are not in the position to build any more than one of these projects. Just looking at the numbers, […] I’m not sure we can afford ANY of these projects.

— Councillor Matt Allard

Finally, someone making sense. You can’t afford to risk maxing yourself out by betting on one last mega project and hoping to hit a home run, because you probably won’t.

Success will be earned in small-scale, low-cost, incremental investments, by making better use of your current infrastructure, one very small bet at a time.

Any other way, and you’ll just end up eating Rhesus pieces. [Hehe, yup, I was saving that one for last!]

Hugs and kisses,

Elmwood Guy