Dear Winnipeg

A Fun Blog About Infrastructure and Municipal Finance

Waverley Underpassed-Out Drunk

Dear Winnipeg,

I was already in the middle of writing you when my wife showed me a video recently shared by the Mayor’s office. If you haven’t seen it, you can take a peek here.

So I decided to set aside my first letter, and instead write to you about this. I’ll save the other one for later.

Now this particular video looks like it’s part of an all-out marketing campaign put on to herald the opening of the new Waverley underpass. This thing has been all over the news and it seems as if it’s all the Mayor and Councillors can talk about.

Only 1 week until it opens! How exciting! It’s a new road!

— Basically every member of City Council lately

But this video… oh man! The soft focus, the slow motion, the Mayor sexily waving his hand over the contours of the newly paved surface… It’s what my wife pretty accurately described as “Infrastructure Porn”.

[Oh, I can’t WAIT to see what kind of Google traffic THOSE keywords generate!]

So as tantalizing as this soft-core spin flick is meant to be, it just doesn’t move my crane, if you get my gist.

[Or ‘get my bull dozing’? Or maybe ‘lay my asphalt’? Or something about a speed hump? Look, I don’t know, I’m new to this… infrastructure porn is such a confusing genre!]

In any case, I’m not impressed. And you shouldn’t be either. Here’s why: math!

Everyone seems to be super excited that the project was finished early and, most importantly, $58 million under budget.

That means a project which was estimated to cost $156 million ONLY cost us $98 million.

So what’s the big deal? Well, let’s not forget one of the major reasons we even “needed” this project in the first place: the fact that we allowed Waverley West to be built (instead of focusing on infill and making better use of our existing infrastructure), and all the extra traffic that generated.

Waverley West, the developers promised us, was going to generate a net benefit to the City of $70 million over 80 years, due to new property taxes (after expenses).

So building this underpass instantly put us $28 million in the red over Waverley West’s first 80 years.

But wait, there’s more! This underpass will have to be completely replaced at least once in the next 80 years. So you can add another $98 million to the expense column.

Plus, the people that live there now, unsurprisingly, want a community centre, to the tune of $30 million. And that will also need to be completely rebuilt at least once within the next 80 years. So let’s make that $60 million.

And oh yeah, I almost forgot… we also “need” to widen Kenaston now. $450 million (times two, because… yup, replacement!).

So let’s take a quick look at our 80-year tally:

  • NEW SPENDING INDUCED: $98 million x 2 (Waverley Underpass), $30 million x 2 (Community Centre), $450 million x 2 (Kenaston widening) = $1.156 Billion

So, net benefit of NEGATIVE $1.086 Billion, or just under $14 million per year over the next 80 years. And that’s not even including any regular maintenance or snow clearing or anything. Just basic capital replacement.

Even if you want to exclude the provincial and federal portions of that spending (which are still our tax dollars, by the way), we still end up with a NET LOSS of just over $315 million, or $4 million per year. That’s nearly enough to pay for a brand new Norwood Pool EVERY YEAR, as I’ve mentioned before.

It’s money that could have replanted our dying trees, fixed potholes on our already existing streets, and gone a very long way towards fixing our embarrassing sewage problem.

And it certainly would have been more than enough to save the Kelvin Community Centre in my neighbourhood. [But, hey, who’s keeping score?]

But instead, it’s digging us deeper into our already very deep financial hole.

So, while we continue to sprawl our City with abandon into the prairie horizon while essentially leaving our existing neighbourhoods to rot, at least we can be happy about a shiny new road! Who cares if that’s what’s bankrupting us, right?

It reminds me of an old TV ad Labatt had put out in the 90s about drinking responsibly. You remember the one… a guy wakes up after a night of heavy drinking while listening to a voicemail from his buddy.

Well, as a City, we drank our faces off last night and did something stupid.

And while we kid ourselves that we don’t need to change our ways since our new nipple ring/underpass is actually pretty cool, the viewer is already aware that we are in for a nasty surprise when we discover what’s on our back… massive financial liabilities that are rendering us insolvent.

But, hey! You da man, cool guy!

See you at the beach,

Elmwood Guy