Home » The Canadian Press » Winnipeg City Council Votes 11-3 to Reopen Landmark Portage and Main to Pedestrians

Winnipeg City Council Votes 11-3 to Reopen Landmark Portage and Main to Pedestrians

March 22, 2024 6:00 AM | The Canadian Press

By Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press

Portage and Main

An aerial view of Portage Avenue and Main Street in Winnipeg is shown on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

Winnipeg’s landmark intersection at Portage Avenue and Main Street will be reopening to pedestrian traffic after more than 40 years.

Councillors voted 11-3 Thursday to reopen the intersection to pedestrians by the summer of 2025.

Mayor Scott Gillingham called it a win all around for Winnipeg.

“Opening Portage and Main will benefit commuters, businesses, residents, and taxpayers,” Gillingham wrote on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.

“It will coincide with the launch of the new transit route network, making our city more accessible and efficient for everyone.”

Concrete barriers have prevented pedestrian crossings at the intersection, forcing people to go through an underground concourse.

But a report to city council estimated $73 million is needed to repair the intersection and the underground walkway, with water leaking in after rainstorms.

The repairs would also tie up vehicle traffic above ground for years.

“This decision comes after careful consideration of the costs and construction timeline associated with repairing the waterproof membrane at the intersection,” wrote Gillingham.

He said a lot of work still must be done.

“Council has tasked the public service (to) look at the next steps for the underground concourse, including issues of cost, public access and artwork,” he wrote.

“This will involve the property owners and downtown stakeholders. That work will result in a report for future council consideration.”

Earlier Thursday, Gillingham told reporters they must think short and long term and the cost of possible future fixes.

“What I don’t want is 30 years from now for a generation of Winnipeggers to say, ‘The council of the day has really left us with an expensive fix here,'” he said.

The intersection holds a special place in Winnipeg hearts.

It has inspired a song, a stamp and years of passionate debate among Winnipeg residents since it was closed in 1979, when developers agreed to build an adjacent office tower and an underground mall on the condition the city force pedestrians below street level.

People have congregated by the thousands at the intersection to celebrate milestones, from the end of war to the return of the National Hockey League.

Gillingham, who was against the reopening in the last election campaign, said the repairs could be less expensive and disruptive if the underground concourse is closed and the intersection reopened to pedestrians.

Earlier Thursday, council heard from both sides of the debate.

Aaron Dolyniuk, with the Manitoba Trucking Association, said the organization doesn’t object to the idea but is concerned transportation trucks would not have access to all driving lanes.

A consultant who works with people with disabilities said reopening the intersection to pedestrians would eliminate barriers, as the underground concourse isn’t accessible around the clock, and can be confusing to navigate.

“The status quo can’t remain,” said Patrick Stewart with the Independent Living Resource Centre.

Coun. Russ Wyatt accused Gillingham of rushing the motion without consulting Winnipeggers.

“It’s important that the citizens of Winnipeg have this say,” said Wyatt.

He proposed having another plebiscite, similar to a non-binding one held in 2018, when 65 per cent of voters opted for keeping the pedestrian barriers up.

CP - The Canadian Press

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