In just over two weeks, the application period begins for the New Building Canada Plan, and Mayor Shari Decter Hirst says Brandon will be "one of the first in the queue."
As of Thursday morning, the top infrastructure priorities for the city included upgrades to Brandon Municipal Airport and expansion of the Daly Overpass.
"We’re prepared to go forward with one project immediately (airport) and then we’ll be working with the province because … we can’t put the (Daly Overpass) forward because it’s not our bridge," Decter Hirst said.
However, the city’s bridge priority may now change. While in Brandon Thursday, Premier Greg Selinger said the First Street bridge needs significant rehabilitation and needs to be addressed quickly — ahead of the Daly Overpass.
Community leaders were given the chance to ask questions about the New Building Canada Plan and the upcoming application process on Thursday, when Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire hosted a meeting with Peter Braid, parliamentary secretary for infrastructure and communities.
Braid went on a tour of the airport and stood at the bottom of the Daly Overpass to see first-hand what the city’s priorities are in terms of infrastructure needs.
"It’s clear in the case of Brandon that they’ve got a couple of … proposed infrastructure projects … that will help to contribute towards Brandon’s economic growth, job creation and productivity which is a key focus of our … New Building Canada Plan," Braid said.
Maguire wanted Braid to see the traffic snarls that happen at the Daly Overpass when the road goes from four lanes to three.
"It’s a real bottleneck," he said.
As for the airport, Maguire talked about the "huge ridership" in the area.
"Whether that will eventually end up with a flight going east or not, I guess would be the ultimate goal," he said. "But certainly right now the ridership going west is huge … It is a huge opportunity so we need to make sure we get the airport expanded as well."
About 25 community leaders attended the meeting at the East End Community Centre, including the mayor, city manager, city treasurer, administration and several councillors.
Also in attendance were representatives from the Brandon Chamber of Commerce, Assiniboine Community College president Mark Frison, Brandon University vice-president Scott Lamont, as well as Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell and Brandon West PC MLA Reg Helwer.
Braid gave an overview of the NBCP, including the $14-billion New Building Canada Fund.
Braid explained that once the application process opens on March 31, in most cases applications will first be reviewed by the province.
"We would then look to the province to help identify priority infrastructure projects here in the province and would look at that list after the province did their initial review," he said.
While local officials are pleased about the opportunities this fund presents, there are some concerns about making sure Brandon and Westman get a piece of the pie.
"My concern is anything that’s routed through the province has a tendency to favour Winnipeg, it feels like," Decter Hirst said. "Is Winnipeg’s Highway 75, CentrePort, streets around Polo Park and several other very large, flashy projects going to gobble up all the money?"
Braid pointed to the $1-billion Small Communities Fund for local projects in communities with fewer than 100,000 residents.
"That will ensure that small communities have the opportunity to advance their own priority infrastructure needs as well," he said.
He noted that small communities can also apply to other components of the fund, not just the Small Community Fund.
Manitoba will receive more than $340 million in support for municipal infrastructure funding over the next five years through the permanent, indexed Gas Tax Fund.
As part of the provincial component, Manitoba will receive more than $467 million in allocated funding. Of this more than $46 million will be dedicated to communities with fewer than 100,000 residents.
"It was good to see the size of the pots that we’re going to have to apply to, gives us a sense of scale," Decter Hirst said.
Also in the NBCP is continued support for Public-Private Partnerships (P3). Braid explained that projects costing more than $100 million automatically are screened for the P3, however smaller projects could still be eligible.
This was welcome news to city manager Scott Hildebrand.
"There’s a lot of things we can do locally that would never meet the $100 million, that we could fit in," he said.
Hildebrand said he found the meeting productive and is looking ahead to the application process.
"Now it’s about our team pulling together, along with the province to ensure that our priorities in western Manitoba are going to be the priorities of the federal government," Hildebrand said.
The mayor said she "loves the attention that Brandon is getting," and hopes it will be very helpful as the city pushes its projects forward.
"When (Braid) sees the file that says ‘Brandon Airport,’ he’s going to have been there, stood in that lobby and understand," Decter Hirst said. "When he sees the file on the bridge, he’s going to know what we’re talking about, so that’s hugely valuable."
Maguire and Braid hosted a similar meeting in Wawanesa Thursday afternoon, with representatives from the surrounding municipalities.