THERE’S TROU­BLE BREWING BELOW

Re­pair work un­der­ground at Portage and Main may ul­ti­mately de­ter­mine what hap­pens to the bar­ri­ers above, re­gard­less of the out­come in the Oct. 24 plebiscite. Dan Lett ex­plores a new twist in the in­ter­sec­tion’s di­vi­sive de­bate A3

Winnipeg Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - DAN LETT dan.lett@freep­ress.mb.ca

THE waterproofing that pro­tects the Portage and Main un­der­ground con­course has “com­pletely dis­in­te­grated” in ar­eas and may mean the re­moval of the con­crete pedes­trian bar­ri­cades re­gard­less of the out­come of the Oct. 24 ref­er­en­dum on the fu­ture of the in­ter­sec­tion.

The Free Press has learned the 39-year-old struc­ture may be in far worse con­di­tion than orig­i­nally thought, and the added costs of re­mov­ing and then re­in­stalling the con­crete struc­tures above ground have prop­erty own­ers in the area ques­tion­ing whether a plebiscite that’s part of the civic elec­tion is even rel­e­vant.

A grow­ing body of en­gi­neer­ing in­for­ma­tion from pri­vate landown­ers at Portage and Main sug­gests the bar­ri­ers will have to be re­moved to al­low for the re­place­ment of a mem­brane that pre­vents mois­ture from leak­ing into the con­course that runs be­neath the in­ter­sec­tion.

The con­course is plagued by chronic leak­age and flood­ing from above­ground pre­cip­i­ta­tion.

Pre­lim­i­nary en­gi­neer­ing stud­ies con­ducted by the own­ers of two prop­er­ties at Portage and Main show con­clu­sively that dam­age to the mem­brane is far more sig­nif­i­cant than first thought.

The re­sult is that the mem­brane can­not be re­paired and must be re­placed, work must be done pri­mar­ily above ground, and it will in­volve the re­moval of all con­crete and other struc­tures at street level above the con­course.

“We did find that the mem­brane had com­pletely dis­in­te­grated and is cracked and fail­ing,” said Roseanne Hill Blais­dell, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Har­vard Build­ings, owner of 201 Portage Av­enue on the north­west cor­ner of the in­ter­sec­tion. “There is no rea­son to be­lieve that the sit­u­a­tion is any bet­ter with the city’s por­tion of the con­course.”

The re­place­ment of the mem­brane will re­quire Har­vard to re­move all con­crete and planters in the plaza in front of 201 Portage Ave., Hill Blais­dell said.

If the city has to do sim­i­lar re­pairs to its por­tions of the con­course — which run di­rectly un­der the road­way — then the bar­ri­ers would most likely have to be re­moved to al­low ac­cess to the con­course ceil­ing.

“It would seem to me to be very pre­ma­ture to vote on the in­ter­sec­tion un­til we get all the en­gi­neer­ing in­for­ma­tion on what ex­pen­di­tures need to be made to the con­course,” she added.

That as­sess­ment was echoed by Dave Finnbo­ga­son, vice-pres­i­dent of cor­po­rate de­vel­op­ment for James Richard­son and Sons, owner of the Richard­son tower on the north­east cor­ner of the in­ter­sec­tion.

Plans are un­der­way to re­move con­crete pan­els from the plaza out­side the tower to re­pair the mem­brane and im­prove street ac­cess to the con­course.

The prospect that the bar­ri­ers might have to be re­moved to fa­cil­i­tate these re­pairs does not, on its own, set­tle the de­bate about whether to rein­tro­duce pedes­tri­ans to the in­ter­sec­tion. Op­po­nents are still con­cerned about the ef­fect on traf­fic flow and pedes­trian safety.

How­ever, this new in­for­ma­tion does elim­i­nate a key point of op­po­si­tion — which was the ex­pen­di­ture of tax­payer dol­lars on re­mov­ing the bar­ri­ers. Rather than vot­ing on the cost of re­mov­ing the bar­ri­ers, a “no” vote in the ref­er­en­dum would com­mit the city to spend­ing sig­nif­i­cant money to build new pedes­trian bar­ri­ers once the con­course re­pairs are com­pleted. That sce­nario runs di­rectly con­trary to the ar­gu­ments made by Couns. Jeff Browaty and Jan­ice Lukes, the cospon­sors of the ref­er­en­dum.

In an emailed state­ment, Browaty de­scribed con­cerns about the cost of re­pair­ing the con­course as mean­ing­less in the scope of the broader de­bate about the in­ter­sec­tion. He also re­futed the no­tion that vot­ing “no” in the ref­er­en­dum would com­mit the city to added costs to re­build the bar­ri­ers.

“If the mem­brane does need to be up­graded and the cur­rent safety bar­ri­cades need to be re­moved, it would pro­vide us an op­por­tu­nity to up­grade to more aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing safety bar­ri­cades,” Browaty wrote. “In the grand scheme of things, this cost would be min­i­mal.”

The city was cer­tainly aware early on that the con­course re­pairs could dra­mat­i­cally af­fect the fu­ture of the pedes­trian bar­ri­ers.

One year ago, city coun­cil ap­proved an en­gi­neer­ing study to as­sess the state of the con­course and es­ti­mate the work needed to be done to re­store its struc­tural in­tegrity.

How­ever, the con­tract for con­course as­sess­ment was not awarded un­til Au­gust of this year. The win­ning con­sul­tant, SMS En­gi­neer­ing, will be paid $75,000 to de­ter­mine the state of the un­der­ground con­course, the mem­brane and other drainage in­fra­struc­ture.

Part of the de­lay was due to un­cer­tainty about the ref­er­en­dum, which coun­cil sup­ported in a vote in early sum­mer.

How­ever, it’s still not clear why the city did not pro­ceed more ex­pe­di­tiously with this study given that it has a huge bear­ing on the de­bate over the in­ter­sec­tion’s fu­ture.

Now, as a re­sult of those de­lays, there is some ques­tion about whether the study re­sults will be avail­able be­fore the ref­er­en­dum vote. The SMS re­port was due to be com­pleted on Oct. 12. Of­fi­cials from the mayor’s of­fice and the city’s me­dia in­quiry ser­vice could not con­firm if that study had been re­ceived, or whether it would be re­leased.

Pro­po­nents of re­open­ing Portage and Main be­lieve the SMS re­port could sig­nif­i­cantly change the tack of the ref­er­en­dum de­bate.

“Based on what we know from the prop­erty own­ers, it’s hard to imag­ine how the city can fix the con­course with­out re­mov­ing the as­phalt and bar­ri­ers,” said Adam Dooley, spokesman for the Team Open cam­paign, which sup­ports the re-in­tro­duc­tion of pedes­tri­ans to the in­ter­sec­tion.

“This is just part of a long over­due re­hab that is needed. We’re talk­ing about a 40-year-old struc­ture that is wear­ing out.”

“We have said from the be­gin­ning that the pre­vi­ous coun­cil showed ap­palling judg­ment with this plebiscite,” Dooley said.

“They tried to dis­till a very com­plex is­sue down to an overly sim­plis­tic ques­tion. They com­pounded that er­ror by fail­ing to pro­vide vot­ers with the back­ground needed to make an in­formed de­ci­sion. We’ve been say­ing that a ‘no’ vote doesn’t save money. All it means is that we get stuck with a lousy, crum­bling in­ter­sec­tion and a re­pair bill.”

‘We’ve been say­ing that a ‘No’ vote doesn’t save money. All it means is that we get stuck with a lousy, crum­bling in­ter­sec­tion and a re­pair bill’

— busi­ness­man Adam Dooley, spokesman for the Team Open coali­tion, which ad­vo­cates for open­ing the in­ter­sec­tion

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Work be­gins on re­pairs to the mem­brane pro­tect­ing the un­der­ground con­course be­tween the Fair­mont Ho­tel and the Bank of Canada.

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