City of Winnipeg to replace concrete barriers at Portage and Main as part of repairs, redesign

The City of Winnipeg plans to remove the concrete barricades from Portage and Main — and replace them with more aesthetically pleasing barriers to pedestrian traffic.

On Tuesday, the city plans to launch public consultations about new designs for the city’s most famous intersection, which has been closed to pedestrian traffic since 1979.

City councillors were briefed about the plans on Friday. City council finance chair Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) said they include the replacement of a leaky underground membrane and the reconstruction of the public spaces above ground.

This has been contemplated since 2018, when city engineers revealed the extent of the repairs that must be made in order to protect the underground concourse.

“We do know that there’s a membrane that does need to be replaced throughout most of the intersection. It’s about 10 feet down and this is going to require excavation that’s going to cause quite a bit of traffic issues,” Browaty said.

The Tuesday launch will mark the start of public consultations on the above-ground redesign, which will see the concrete  barricades replaced with barriers that look less like bunkers, he said.

There are also plans to make it easier to hold special events at the intersection.

Browaty said while a full report is coming later in the year about the changes, he was somewhat disappointed with the presentation members of council received on Friday.

“There’s no details on costs, no information on time frames and really nothing in terms of what type of improvements they’re proposing in the underground area,” Browaty said.

In 2018, when Winnipeg held a non-binding plebiscite about reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians, Browaty led the successful effort to oppose the idea.

He now supports the idea of reopening the intersection from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., when the undergound concourse is closed. The underground walkway was open 24 hours a day prior to the pandemic.

Browaty said his opposition to reopening the intersection 24 hours a day is based on concerns about traffic delays, which contribute to Winnipeg Transit costs.

The city however must make the crossing accessible and do more to reduce barriers for people who use wheelchairs, he said.

Concrete barricades and no passage signs.
Portage and Main has been closed to pedestrians since 1979. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Adam Dooley, who helped lead the yes vote in the city’s 2018 Portage and Main plebiscite, said he’s not surprised to learn repairs are on the way.

“We’ve known for years that that intersection needed massive upgrades that were going to cost a lot of money and I think this is an opportunity for the city to finally take the right step … and get rid of the barricades entirely,” Dooley said Friday.

“If we expect to be a great city, a great city that people want to stay in, that our kids want to stay and live in, we cannot have a downtown that is hostile to pedestrians and hostile to people gathering on the street.”

He called reopening the intersection overnight “a baby step” toward doing what the city should have done in the first place.