Keeping up with Winnipeg infrastructure: A struggle between growth and efficiency

As Winnipeg continues to grow so do its needs, with it grows the cost to maintain existing services. In recent months however, a number of infrastructure challenges have called into question whether or not the city is putting enough resources towards their upkeep.

Whether it’s potholes, or the recent spilling of over 220 million litres of raw sewage into the Red River, or last fall’s closure of the Arlington Bridge, the city keeps on having to react to a growing demand of aging infrastructure upkeep.

Coun. Janice Lukes, who chairs the Public Works Committee, acknowledges how precarious it can be to balance big ticket items, but notes the city is doing what it can with limited resources.

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“There’s only one taxpayer,” comments Lukes. “It’s the allocation of that tax dollar that we’re struggling with. We see it in our roads. We can’t keep up with the growth of our city with the funding that we have.”

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Lukes stresses that the city is doing all it can to keep up, but the current funding model just doesn’t work.

“We all pay taxes. We pay city taxes, we pay provincial taxes, we pay federal taxes,” says Lukes. “If I were to take one dollar of my taxes that I paid, 10 cents comes to the city, 40 cents goes to the Province, and 50-cents goes to the Federal Government.”

There is some room to be optimistic. Lukes is pleased the provincial government committed to addressing changes on page 50 of its most recent budget, but that doesn’t help with the list needing attention right now. In 2018 the city released it Asset Management Plan, which reported Winnipeg had a infrastructure deficit of $6.9 billion, which would be closer to $9 billion in today’s dollars.

Richard Milgrom, a professor with the University of Manitoba’s Department of City Planning, points out that this deficit isn’t a new problem, but according to him there are ways to address the issue.

“Rather than spending billions on widening roads, let’s fix what we already have,” Milgrom says. “The centre of the city right now is incredibly underpopulated, so that infrastructure isn’t being used efficiently.”

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