Two funds designed as part of the NDP government’s "record investments in provincial roads" paid out less than 13 per cent of what was available in their first year.
According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, both the Urban Highway Fund (UHF) and Commercial Infrastructure Fund (CIF) failed to pay out the $50 million total proposed as part of two cost-shared programs introduced in 2013.
A FIPPA request was filed after several requests to the Department of Infrastructure and Transportation for the information went unanswered.
Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said there were several reasons the programs were underutilized.
"It’s the first year we rolled the program out," Ashton said, adding that a long legislative session meant estimates and budgets took more time to pass than initially anticipated.
"The numbers last year are just a reflection that we weren’t able to get the program up and running until fall."
UHF enables municipalities to cost-share work on provincial highways that run through communities.
On April 17, the premier issued a press release as part of the 2013 provincial budget that focused on investments in highways and street improvements.
The release states "$25 million this year in a new Urban Highway Fund, which will enable municipalities to prioritize investments in provincial highways that affect their municipalities."
The programs are part of a greater $622-million promise toward bridges and highways as part of the Manitoba Building and Renewal Plan.
Less than $12 million worth of work was done, of which 50 per cent came from municipalities — meaning the province kicked in less than
One of the major projects was intersection improvements at 17th Street East and Richmond Avenue, Ashton said.
The $3.5-million project was cost-shared by the City of Brandon and the province.
More alarming is that only 75 per cent of the municipalities that applied were approved. Twelve projects were proposed prior to the Jan. 30, 2014 deadline, with only nine being approved.
Ashton said the second year has seen an uptick in the program.
"We already have a significant number of municipalities interested this year," Ashton said. "It’s too early to say what the final number of projects will be."
Meanwhile, CIF relies on businesses and industry coming to the plate to cost-share projects.
Only one company, Sand Hills Casino, applied and was approved.
The casino, which is south of Carberry, shared the $364,000 cost to build an access point at its location on Highway 5.
Ashton is hopeful that other industries, such as oil, mining and forestry, will take advantage of the program in the future.
He also wants to see Manitoba Crown corporation Manitoba Hydro utilize the program.
"In northern Manitoba, we have hydro and hydro development which certainly has impact on our highways, so there’s some discussion there in terms of their highway needs."
Ashton said any money not used this year will be used in future years.
"We’ve indicated that if we don’t meet that commitment in a given year, we will roll it into the next year," Ashton said.
One municipal councillor, speaking under the condition of anonymity, said the programs are a way to subsidize the provincial government, which hasn’t done a good enough job repairing and replacing roads.
"It’s a bribe to jump the line and get repairs in your town, repairs that should have been done a long time ago," he said.
It’s "laughable" to him that Manitoba Hydro, which is proposing a multi-billion-dollar development supported by the NDP government, would have to contribute to a provincial road.
For Ashton, the programs are just a tool municipalities and businesses can use.
"It’s another option," Ashton said. "And no one is forced to do this — it’s an option."
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