With the Manitoba government slated to release its next budget on Thursday, we thought it might be worth conducting a little budget priority daydreaming ourselves.
What if you were the premier of western Manitoba — if such a thing existed. Where would you put your spending priorities? And what if money was no object when it came to your Westman budget checklist?
Well, in our Westman universe, we can see plenty of places that could use attention, and if we were premier of the region, here’s where we would focus our efforts.
First up, infrastructure. In basically every municipality in Westman, there are roads and bridges that are in need of repair, and one of the most pressing concerns for the southwest corner of our little empire is the oilpatch.
Just last week, Tundra Oil and Gas CEO Dan MacLean called for the spending of $24 million to transform Highway 256 into an “all-weather” road. The highway, what MacLean called the “lifeblood” of the oil industry here, basically shuts down during the spring thaw, forcing heavy tanker traffic down other municipal roads, which only causes further damage.
While we’re at it, let’s twin Highway 10 properly, all the way to Riding Mountain National Park. Oh, and we should also finish repaving a section of the Trans-Canada Highway near Virden that was improperly surfaced the first time.
Hopefully we’ll avoid paving roads to nowhere like the service road off Highway 10 that was completed up to Deer Ridge Road last year — built with a nod to a cloverleaf planned for the section of the Trans-Canada Highway north of Brandon a quarter-century from now. Lord knows the traffic lights at First Street and the Trans-Canada don’t look flashy enough.
Speaking of roads and bridges, the bottlenecked Daly Overpass in Brandon sure could use that second northbound lane — the 15-minute drive from the south end of the city to the Trans-Canada takes far too long. And whatever the initial cost to build the fourth lane, no doubt it will ultimately be significantly higher. The original cost estimate for the Thompson Bridge was $17.9 million, but the actual was more like $28 million when it was finally finished.
Let’s not forget about the Eighth Street bridge. Among the varied options identified by Dillon Consulting some time ago, the cost to redo the bridge ranged from $20 million to $34 million. A mere drop or two in the budget bucket. Though the city has an infrastructure reserve, Patrick Pulak from Dillon Consulting said Brandon would need to pursue a funding partnership with either the province or the federal government to get it done. Unless of course the bridge becomes pedestrian only.
Airport renovations at McGill Field would be next on the list — certainly a big concern for all Westman residents these days. The ambitious plan for the city, which includes a new baggage carousel, revised arrivals hall, new updated ticketing counters, furniture, lighting and mechanical systems — among other changes — would cost upwards of $1.6 million. Even before WestJet landed in Brandon, the city was on the hunt for provincial and federal funding for this redevelopment.
The recent cold spell has also highlighted the fact that Brandon, like Winnipeg, is having to deal with severely aging sewer and water lines that break and crack from frost and use. And the cost to the city is quite stark: Mayor Shari Decter Hirst told the Sun last year the city had a $165-million infrastructure deficit to contend with.
Meanwhile, the Assiniboine Community College’s move from its Victoria Avenue campus to the new North Hill campus remains stuck in limbo. For a moving project that former ACC president Joel Ward predicted would be complete in 2011, it remains half complete and three years past that deadline.
In the final tally, ACC’s move to its new home will have cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and the project is stalled. As premier, we would make this project a priority for the upcoming year.
And like other growing communities in Westman — such as Neepawa — Brandon needs cash to build infrastructure for new developments, such as the proposed North Brandon Gateway project between First and 18th streets south of the Trans-Canada Highway.
The reality is, there are plenty of places the NDP could put its spending here in western Manitoba, and we’ve only mentioned some of the bigger ticket items that require bricks, mortar, steel and asphalt.
To ask the province to attend to every item on this list would come with a heavy dose of wishful thinking, but these are all projects that need attention in our corner of Manitoba.
Let’s see if the New Democrats have been paying attention.