Expansion of the Daly Overpass was one of the Brandon projects named in the province’s unveiling of its five-year, $5.5-billion infrastructure plan on Wednesday.
While this is good news for the city, Mayor Shari Decter Hirst is concerned about the five-year window for what she says is Brandon’s No. 1 infrastructure priority.
"I don’t want this project to be starting in 2019-2020. We need to start it today because we’ve got a year of engineering to get through before we can even start construction," Decter Hirst said.
"I think that the province needs to understand how critically important having four lanes from one end of the city to the other is for commerce, trade and tourism, as well as the convenience of the residents of Brandon."
The notorious chokepoint on 18th Street, which is currently just three lanes as it passes over the CP railway, has been identified as a priority for years.
No details were included in the plan regarding cost or when exactly construction would take place.
Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell said the Daly Overpass is a priority for the province as well.
"This is indicating the province is in," Caldwell said. "The province is in completely and fully. We are going to be working with the City of Brandon to get that bridge done."
Caldwell noted that the Daly Overpass expansion has been moved up significantly on the province’s to-do list.
"It’s been moved up more than 15 years," he said. "I think that’s also very significant because that indicates our recognition that Brandon is a growing community and requires the infrastructure to reflect its continued growth."
Caldwell said they want to get the project done as quickly as possible.
"Our intent is to get to is as soon as we possibly can," he said.
As it is such a major project and likely very costly, the mayor is hoping the overpass expansion will be a joint effort between the city, province and federal government.
"We certainly have it on our wish list for the Building Canada Fund," she said. "It’s one of our critical projects going forward, however at the end of the day, the federal government will decide whether it’s going to be a priority."
Decter Hirst added they have been working closely with Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire "to ensure that the Brandon voice is heard in Ottawa."
Maguire said the city first will need to apply for funding under the New Building Canada Plan, which can begin by the end of the month.
"We’ve made the funds available, they have to apply and then I’ll do whatever I can to make sure we move forward with it," Maguire said.
Maguire, along with Peter Braid, parliamentary secretary for infrastructure and communities, will host a meeting with community leaders next Thursday in Brandon.
"We wanted to call that meeting to bring everyone under one roof and just begin the planning process," Maguire said.
Maguire said they will outline the New Building Canada Plan, discuss priorities and give people direction on how to apply.
The bulk of the Manitoba government’s $5.5-billion plan — $3.7 billion — is to go to roads and bridges. Another $1.5 billion is to be spent on municipal infrastructure, while $320 million is earmarked for flood protection.
Much of what the province will fix has already been announced — such as improvements to the Trans-Canada Highway to the tune of $320 million.
There’s also a promise of $265 million for Highway 10, including new passing lanes, pavement and curve realignments. And $100 million will be invested in Highway 16 as well, which the province said will improve driving conditions on 100 km of the road. Some of that will be to add passing lanes.
Brandon’s mayor was a bit concerned that there was no mention of Brandon Municipal Airport renewal.
"It’s part of our negotiating strategy with WestJet to go east and I don’t want to see that delayed," Decter Hirst said. "The project is too big for the city to take on, on its own, and we need to have funding partners at the table … It is a regional project because it’s western Manitoba’s regional airport."
While the airport wasn’t specifically mentioned in the infrastructure plan, Caldwell pointed to the $1.5 billion earmarked for municipal infrastructure.
"Wherever there’s an opportunity for the province to invest with the other two levels of government on municipal priorities, we will be working with the other two levels of government to ensure that the province is participating in those sorts of investments," Caldwell said.
About $1.5 billion of the provincial infrastructure fund is to come from extra revenue generated by an increase in the provincial sales tax to eight from seven per cent that the government brought in last summer.
"We could not be having this ambitious investment in infrastructure without this one cent on the dollar. Period," said Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton on Wednesday on the eve of the provincial budget.
"Manitobans wanted a significant investment in core infrastructure. They’re going to see it. They’re going to be able to see and feel and — with the amount of asphalt that we’re going to be laying down — you’re going to be able to smell the difference."
The New Democrats have been floundering in the polls since they announced last year that they were increasing the provincial sales tax. The move came after the party had ruled out a tax increase in the previous election campaign.
The government had been struggling to clearly explain exactly where the extra revenue would go.
Jobs and Economy Minister Theresa Oswald said it has been a "rough ride" and admitted it probably would have helped if the government had released detailed spending plans sooner.
The government released a report Wednesday, commissioned for $17,000 from the Conference Board of Canada, that touted the economic benefits of its infrastructure plan.
The board said the plan will create a total of 59,900 person-years of jobs, lift Manitoba's economy by $6.3 billion and generate $1.4 billion in retail sales.
But Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said the five-year plan is just a way for the NDP to justify its tax hike. He said the province should be investing in infrastructure but not by collecting extra provincial sales-tax revenue.
"You fund it through general revenues," Pallister said. "Every other province in Canada is facing many of the same infrastructure challenges. The infrastructure deficit is real. We need to invest in infrastructure. Every other province knows that. No other province raised the PST."
The government said the five-year plan is to be independently reviewed each year and the report made public. Ashton said the NDP hopes that getting shovels in the ground on construction projects will help convince skeptics that the tax increase was justified.
"If you prove that you get the results you said you were going to get, I actually think a lot of people will really take a second look at this," Ashton said.
"This is about the future of the province."
» email@example.com, with files from The Canadian Press and the Winnipeg Free Press