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Wrong Way

The road to financial ruin

The City of Winnipeg will adopt its four-year budget in March 2024. We’ve heard a lot of whispers and rumblings, but haven’t seen anything yet.

Will this be a budget that moves the City of Winnipeg towards a prosperous future, or will we double down on the mistakes of the past?

The City of Winnipeg adopted the Strategic Priorities Action Plan (SPAP) ahead of the four-year budget cycle. This involved adopting forty-two (42!) priorities across five themes. You can find the plan here.

The clearest example of where the city has failed in the past, and how to fix it, can be summarized by the closure of the Arlington Bridge at a time when our city has adopted a strategic plan that will add billions of additional dollars in road infrastructure to a bill we already cannot pay. 

What do we hope to get from extending the Chief Peguis Trail & widening Kenaston Boulevard, and why is it the wrong way to invest? Let’s explore.

Prosperity From More Housing

  • We often hear about the prosperity that will come from building more road infrastructure, such as:

  • “Getting our trade corridors, including our urban regional roads, upgraded, updated and seamlessly connected is critical to our economy. The investments will spin off returns in multiple ways: new capital, new ventures, new Manitobans.” — Chris Lorenc, President and CEO of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association

  • "This is much more than just about building a road," Gillingham said, adding this will open up land for new housing”  — Mayor Scott Gillingham

  • We’ve been taught to believe that all growth is good. But, when we think about growth, we have to think about productive vs unproductive growth

  • Productive growth pays for itself over time, and generates enough revenue to cover the cost of its eventual replacement, with enough left over to help fund additional services. 

  • Unproductive growth does not even pay for itself, requiring the city to spread its operations budget thinner. We experience the consequences of unproductive growth at budget times, when “tough choices” have to be made about which programs are funded, whose community centre gets an upgrade and which doesn’t, and how many librarians will be cut, for example.

We need to ensure our growth is generating real wealth. 

  • Car-oriented growth is very expensive to build, and does not pay for itself over time.

  • When we think about prosperity, we need to understand the types of infrastructure that generate real wealth. When we think about what projects in our strategic plan we want to dedicate the most resources to. By looking at the Value Acre breakdown for Winnipeg, we can see how vitally important mixed-use development in our central neighbourhoods is. 

  • For example: a cost-benefit analysis conducted for the City in 2012, and revised in 2017, showed the Kenaston widening would provide $125 million in economic benefits over 20 years, or just over $6 million per year. Meanwhile, the cost of construction is estimated at $550 million. When financing and additional operating and maintenance costs are factored in, the total jumps to nearly $1.2 Billion, or almost $39 million per year for 30 years. That’s right, $39 million of cost, for $6 million of benefit. That’s … not good. 

    • The Kenaston widening has been rejected twice already for federal funding (Building Canada Fund, 2015 and National Trade Corridors Fund, 2018). 

    • Neither Kenaston nor Chief Peguis appeared in the five-year Provincial funding plan, released in March of 2023. The federal government indicated they were favouring projects of $50 million or less for future Trade Corridor investment, which is a fraction of the cost of both of these projects. 

  • The Chief Peguis Trail extension was ranked #29 on the City of Winnipeg’s infrastructure priorities list in 2019 due to its low scoring on a “cost benefit point ratio.” Federal funding requires the benefits to exceed the costs. 

  • In conclusion, the prosperity we hope will result from more highway development is extremely unlikely. In reality, we can expect fewer available resources as our operational budgets continue to be spread thinner, resulting in the need for further cuts and tax increases.

More Roads Provide Traffic Relief

  • Councilor Devi Sharma, who represents the Old Kildonan ward, noted that extending the Chief Peguis Trail “will take traffic off neighbourhood streets and put it on a roadway built for higher traffic volumes, making existing and new neighbourhoods more accessible for walking, cycling and transit. Right now, short-cutting through residential streets is a problem in northwest Winnipeg.”

  • Because these investments prioritize personal vehicles - the most inefficient way of moving people in a city - the induced demand from these projects will increase traffic levels and slow travel times.

  • Induced demand: When roadways are expanded to meet higher capacities of traffic, traffic volumes will rise and congestion will quickly return to similar levels (Planopedia: Clear, accessible definitions for common urban planning terms) 

  • For the CPT project: David Patman, Manager, City of Winnipeg Transportation Division at a May 28th, 2019 Public Works meeting: “The majority of the traffic on the Chief Peguis is going to be new traffic from new development.” (3:35:00 - 3:40:00)

  • Important note: traffic models were last updated in 2011

  • For the Kenaston project: the City of Winnipeg’s traffic data shows that commute times on Kenaston are currently 7 to 8 minutes during PEAK periods. With the expansion, the City predicts that traffic times will INCREASE to 8.2 to 9.2 minutes by 2041. 

  • Even with nothing done, the City predicts commute times will increase from 8.5 to 14 minutes. This is a difference of just 5 minutes. 

  • But doing nothing or spending hundreds of millions to extend the CPT and widen Kenaston are not the only options available, they are not even the only two options being considered and planned for. The Draft Transportation Master Plan currently under review is calling for a 50% sustainable mode share (transit, auto passenger, walking, and bike trips over a 24 hour period) by 2050. If this target is met, then traffic on Kenaston would fall, not increase, between now and 2050, even after allowing for an annual increase in the number of people. You can check out the numbers here.

  • While it might be logical to believe that traffic will increase as the city grows, it’s interesting to look at traffic data to see if that is the case. In fact, on the St James bridge in 1994, there were an average of 78,000 vehicles per day. Today there are an average of 79,000 vehicles per day. In 30 years, we’ve seen essentially no increase in traffic. This is because we have not INDUCED more traffic.

These Projects Are Investments in the Local Neighbourhood

  • Because road projects are incredibly expensive, we often frame them as “large investments” in neighourhoods. 

  • These “investments” are great for politicians, used to bolster short-term election campaigns. For example, the CBC wrote about how the Waverly Underpass was built in 2015 to boost the chances of a conservative MP being reelected. At the time, the Arlington Bridge was a much higher priority for the City of Winnipeg. But, as our finances are so precarious, we need other levels of government to fund these projects, and thus we are at the whims of what other levels of government deem as their priorities.  

  • So, are the local neigbourhoods truly benefitting from the “investment” in these large road projects, or could our limited resources be put towards other projects? 

  • For example, it’s easy to frame spending a billion dollars expanding the CPT as a large investment into the north of the city. 

  • However, is a highway what will truly improve the lives of those in the community? For example, in this CBC article from 2021, we hear from residents who are “losing hope” that they will ever get the investment needed into their community centres. 

  • If it comes down to “tough choices” in our budgets, do we want to spend capital dollars on building more roads? How are we measuring ROI (return on investment)? Who is benefiting from the dollars spent?

The Arlington Bridge

For over eighty years the city has been expanding outward, spreading its resources thinner and thinner. With each new road and underpass, we’re promised that prosperity is on the horizon. Unfortunately, we’re in a growth ponzi scheme and the only results we’ve seen are infrastructure projects, like the Arlington Bridge, passed over for needed maintenance. "Almost regularly since 1967, city council has been told the bridge is nearing the end of its useable life, but replacement plans have been repeatedly put off in favour of repairs." (CBC). 


In November 2023, the Arlington Bridge was closed indefinitely

On the horizon: the closure of the Louise Bridge!


  • Cities like Winnipeg often focus on tax revenue generated by new developments on the edge. And while it’s true that folks in these new developments seem to pay higher taxes, what is important for cities to pay attention to is “value per acre.” 

  • We can see from this map that far more value is generated in walkable neighbourhoods compared to developments that are car-oriented. 

  • By understanding this map, we can see how important it is to focus our resources on maintaining the areas of the city that are generating revenue. 

  • While those in outer suburban developments certainly deserve basic city services (they were, of course, promised these services when making their housing investment), we do need to ensure the money spent doesn’t deplete resources going to neighbourhoods that are more sustainable, economical and resilient. 

  • For example, during the debate around opening Portage and Main, we denied the value of the intersection as a walkable place, and the experience of the folks who live in the area, in favour of the convenience of those in the outer suburbs who saw the intersection as a place to drive through quickly. 

  • When looking at the Arlington Bridge vs the Chief Peguis trail, we can see how those who live in, and depend on, the area around the Arlington Bridge are of high value to the City of Winnipeg, and deserve investment, compared to any new development that would be generated by spending over a billion dollars on a highway extension.


Without a doubt, Kenaston is in rough shape and in need of repair, and the north end deserves more investment. But, with the evidence before us, it is clear that we do not need massive highway projects. Just like the Marion Street road widening project was canceled in 2016 to reimagine its size and scope, we believe it is imperative for the City of Winnipeg to go back to the drawing board for these road projects in the Strategic Planning Priorities. 


We need to focus our precious resources on maintaining, and growing, what we already have. We are in an infrastructure deficit. When you are in a hole: STOP DIGGING. 


Developing projects in line with our mode shift goals, an understanding of induced demand, and a clear economic rationale, will ensure that the next generation does not inherit infrastructure that is unsustainable.


Make your voice count during the budget process. You can:

  • Call and email the Mayor

  • Call and email your City Councillor

  • Share this page on your social media

  • Talk to your family, friends and neighbours

Want to join TLUC? Email us to join the mailing list by reaching out to


Learn More

We’ve linked to many studies and sources above, but you can gain more context around these projects by:

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