Widening Winnipeg’s Kenaston Boulevard, Chief Peguis Trail not worth the cost: sustainability expert

As Winnipeg considers whether to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on two of the most expensive road construction projects in its history, one expert says the city’s own data shows the projects aren’t worth the cost.

Ken Klassen is an engineering technologist with four decades of experience advising companies on ways to improve sustainability. 

He gave a presentation to city council’s executive policy committee in March, urging them not to go ahead with plans to widen Kenaston Boulevard and extend Chief Peguis Trail. 

Using reports produced by the city, including some obtained through freedom of information requests, Klassen argued the costs far outweigh any purported benefits.

“Part of the strategic misrepresentation that the city has consistently done with this project [is] they’ve overstated the benefits [and] they’ve understated the impacts on the community,” Klassen said in an interview.

Earlier this month, the city released its preliminary designs for upgrading the Route 90 corridor between Taylor Avenue and Ness Avenue, including adding two new lanes to Kenaston Boulevard.

That report states more than two-thirds of the cost of that project is needed for necessary upgrades to the road, sewers and St. James Bridge.

Past cost-benefit study

The city estimates the Kenaston Boulevard project will cost about $500 million, and the 2023 budget includes $2.8 million for preliminary planning, including conducting business case studies of the Kenaston and Chief Peguis Trail projects.

Klassen, who lives on a street near Kenaston Boulevard, said the city already did that study a decade ago.

A 2012 report prepared by MMM Group Ltd. estimated widening Kenaston would generate $125 million over 20 years — about $6.3 million per year.

The city’s Unfunded Major Capital Projects report from 2019 estimates the Route 90 project will cost the city $38.7 million per year, with financing and maintenance costs factored in. 

The cost of the proposed Chief Peguis Trail extension project is also pegged at about $500 million.

Klassen said considering those costs, the two projects are “the equivalent of a 14 per cent increase in your property tax every year for the next 30 years.”

This photo shows a man standing in front of trees.
Ken Klassen lives on a street near Kenaston Boulevard. (Lyza Sale/CBC)

In an emailed statement, Mayor Scott Gillingham said the city would conduct a new cost-benefit analysis using current data before applying for federal and provincial funding.

“But this isn’t simply about widening a road. It’s about removing a bottleneck on one of our most important trade routes,” Gillingham wrote.

“Kenaston is six lanes wide immediately north and south of this section. The bottleneck creates congestion and causes some drivers to cut through other streets in River Heights.”

Feds rejected project twice

Klassen also cast doubt on the possibility of the city getting federal and provincial support for the project. 

He points out that the federal government has rejected it twice already — once in 2015 under the Building Canada Fund and again in 2018 under the National Trade Corridors Fund. 

Other Canadian cities have dedicated massive amounts of money to building their rapid transit networks with the help of federal funding, Klassen said.

“The federal government is not funding urban freeways, they’re funding rapid transit,” he said.

“Winnipeg taxpayers are literally seeing their federal tax dollars being used to fund rapid transit in other cities, and we’re not at the table.”

Gillingham points out the Kenaston plans also include new active transportation paths and upgrades to transit stops, allowing for articulated buses to be used along the route.

“Outside of this project, we will continue to implement [the] transit master plan and make further enhancements to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure,” he wrote.

The head and shoulders of Winnipeg's mayor in the foyer at the council building.
Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham says the plans to widen the city’s Kenaston Boulevard also include new active transportation paths and upgrades to transit stops, allowing for articulated buses to be used along the route. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Rather than building wider and longer roads as a way of dealing with congestion, Klassen said Winnipeg should focus on expanding its rapid transit network, which carries an additional benefit.

The largest bus manufacturer in North America, New Flyer, is based in the city. As Winnipeg moves to electrify its bus fleet, it can take advantage of Manitoba’s abundance of cheap electricity.

“We don’t build cars like Ontario does. We build buses,” Klassen said. “We don’t drill for oil and gas the way Saskatchewan and Alberta do. We have hydroelectricity. Yet we’re not leveraging our inherent resources. It’s ridiculous.”