News / Winnipeg

Committee fires more complaints at city brass over Waverley Underpass plan

A 2-2 vote moves plan along approval chain, but without endorsement

Metro file

A $155 million plan to build an underpass in Winnipeg’s South End is one step closer to being a guarantee in the upcoming budget.

But not without councillors castigating top city bureaucrats for the lack of consultation with everyone around the council table.

A special meeting of the city’s infrastructure renewal and public works committee was called Friday to debate moving ahead with the construction of a multi-million underpass at the railway crossing of Waverley Street and Taylor Avenue.

The committee had previously voted in January to delay the project for up to 60 days, slamming city staff for bringing it forward only to be rubber-stamped.

On Friday, Coun. Devi Sharma reminded the city’s chief administrative officer, Doug McNeil, that a request had been made for all councillors to be briefed on the issue during a closed-door meeting before it came back to the committee, which she said never happened.

“Why are we leaving other councilors in the dark on this big file,” she said.

The committee heard the matter had in fact been discussed during a private committee briefing several weeks ago, and according to the perspective from public administration a second briefing “wasn’t necessary,” McNeil explained.

All of council was informed of the project last March, and its scope has not changed, he added. 

“It’s my job to say if it’s adequate. Not the administration's,” Sharma said.

“I’m not saying this is not a valuable project, but the process just stinks.”

Coun. Shawn Dobson agreed, saying he would have liked more notice that the project was coming before the committee in the first place. 

Committee chairwoman Coun. Janice Lukes, however, mentioned that city staff are always available to meet with memebers of council individually to answer questions, and that regardless of the committee's criticisms, a notice of motion filed last month guarantees the matter would be on the council floor in February. 

The committee’s decision whether to approve project was eventually defeated by a tie vote, meaning it will now be heard before the executive policy committee with no recommendation.

Underpass project has 'serious flaws': consultant 

A local consultant appeared before Friday’s meeting to warn councillors there are “serious flaws” with how plans to build a $155 million underpass are unfolding.

Ken Klassen voiced numerous concerns about the city’s handling of the project, from its cost estimates to its “hiding” of information from members of the public.

He told the committee he was denied access to the city’s Build Canada fund application for the project, and was informed he could only obtain the document by filing a request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Klassen also blasted the public administration’s plan to award a $12.3 million singe-source engineering contract to Dillon Consulting Limited without undergoing a tendering process.

“I personally have never seen such a large un-tendered contract,” he said, warning it sets a bad precedent for future capital projects, and is unfair to other companies.

City staff said such a move is “common practice,” and explained that preliminary design work had been previously awarded to Dillon, essentially making other firms ineligible to continue without starting over.

“It’s a common practice. That doesn’t mean it’s fair, transparent or correct,” Sharma said.

The committee also heard no cost-benefit analysis was ever done for the project, as is also the case with many other infrastructure projects, according to city administration.

They explained the city will examine the “intangible” benefits of a project, such as public safety and improved services, which differs from the pure economic scrutiny done by provincial and federal governments.