Dear Winnipeg

A Fun Blog About Infrastructure and Municipal Finance

Killing Me Softly With His Unfunded Major Capital Projects

Dear Winnipeg,

Ok, so I read it. I didn’t want to read it, but I did anyway. Everyone I know just kept talking about that new city report, “Unfunded Major Capital Projects Detail“, and how I just had to read it, and how it was just sooo good, and how I just wouldn’t be the same after reading it, and it’s basically the Eat, Pray, Love of public service reports, and just read it already!

Well I did. And although it’s well-written, and peppered with dazzling artwork throughout, I have to say I think it’s ultimately a huge letdown for any fan of the franchise.

[Plus, it didn’t even make Oprah’s Book Club list. That should’ve been my first clue.]

So what’s it about?

It’s the tragic story of Peggy, who it turns out is addicted to buying new things, even though she can’t even take care of the stuff she already owns.

I’ll save you the trouble of reading the whole tedious chronicle, and I’ll tell you how it ends: predictably. The protagonist in the story ends up bankrupt and in shambles.

Ok, I didn’t hate everything about it. There was one clever twist: it framed each potential new project in terms of how much we need to increase our property taxes to pay for them!

Since all these infrastructure projects are unfunded (ie. we don’t have any money to build them), and since many of them are money-losing investments anyways, the only way to pay for them is to borrow money which will get paid back through property tax increases.

[I know, seems obvious NOW… don’t go pretending you knew all along just like in Sixth Sense, ’cause I know you were surprised just like the rest of us!]

So Kenaston widening? 6.9% tax increase.

And Chief Peguis extension? Between 6.9 and 8.4% increase.

Wow. And you thought people were upset when the mayor suggested we might need a 7.1% increase this year to make up for the provincial funding shortfall?

This is more than double that. On two measly projects.

People are going to lose their Elizabeth-Gilbert-loving minds!

[Oh wait, no they won’t. I forgot that no one’s going to read this snoozer of a report!]

Some North Kildonan councillors will argue that people need to get around the city, and that we need, need, need this new infrastructure, what with all the population growth we’ll be experiencing.

But if we used the same logic for accommodating cars as we apply to bike infrastructure, we’d never build a single road: nobody bikes here, so why do we need a bike lane?

Likewise, nobody is driving through the field from Main & Peguis to Route 90, so why do we need a road? [Actually, there might be a few extreme motorists out there attempting it, but we don’t have an exact count. Hopefully our buddy Jeff has that info?]

And that’s exactly the point. Yes, people need to get places. But HOW they get there is our choice as a city. What we build determines how we travel.

Instead of asking how we can move more cars, maybe ask how we can move more people?

So, before we go ahead and significantly raise our taxes to build literally the most expensive type of transportation infrastructure out there, let’s do a little M _ T H. [I’d like to buy a vowel, Pat… an A?]

Option 1 is already on the table: Build two extra roads for cars at a cost of a 15.3% tax increase.

But, buses can move more people more efficiently than cars (25 cars to 1 bus). So, according to the same report, we could instead build 3 new rapid transit corridors for buses, and that would only cost us a 4.0% tax increase.

Even though that option is definitely strumming my pain with its fingers, is it possible we could find an even cheaper solution?

The implementation of the entire cycling strategy is expected to cost $334 million over the next 20 years. Let’s say we wanted to accelerate it and do it over 10 years, that would mean an extra $16.7 million per year, or a 2.8% tax increase.

[You’re singing my life with your words!]

But wait! If buses are so much more efficient at moving people, do we even need to build new bus corridors? Won’t our current roads have excess capacity as people change modes from their cars to buses? Yes they will! So instead of building new bus lanes, why don’t we just set aside dedicated bus lanes out of the already existing lanes on our roads? What does that cost? Our entire lane striping operation costs us $178,000 per year, which includes a 3-person crew, equipment and materials. Let’s just hire a whole other crew, just for repainting bus lanes, every year. We can do that for just a 0.03% tax increase.

[I prayed that he would finish, but he just kept right on!]

Excited yet? Me too. But here’s the grande finale.

The fastest and cheapest mode of transportation is… already being at your destination.

You can make sure more people are already where they need to be by allowing all the things they need to get to, to be closer to each other. You do that by favouring compact, mixed-use, walkable development in existing neighbourhoods, by eliminating wasteful parking requirements, and by restricting new development on the outskirts of the city.

And you can do all that just by changing your development regulations and zoning by-laws. Which costs nothing. $0. [Or 0% if you prefer percentages.]

And as a deal-seeking Winnipegger, that price sounds just about right to me.

[I know, me too. Here, I’ll save you the trouble of finding it. Enjoy!]


Elmwood Guy