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‘It’s time to reopen Portage and Main,’ Gillingham says

Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham made it official Friday morning and announced his desire to reopen Portage and Main to pedestrians by summer 2025.

A new report from the city’s urban planning manager says fixing the leaky membrane at Portage Avenue and Main Street in order to protect the city-owned underground pedestrian crossing would create traffic delays for four or five years and cost at least $73 million.

Gillingham said Friday at a news conference he cannot support years of traffic disruptions and will not support the plans, outlined in the new report, to fix the leaky membrane at the city’s sixth-busiest intersection.

“Repairing the membrane would require completely tearing up Portage and Main in sections and create traffic chaos downtown for four to five years,” Gillingham said.

“We need to pursue a more practical alternative. It’s time to reopen Portage and Main to pedestrian traffic.”

Gillingham’s plan, which must be supported by council, would permanently close the circular underground walkway. Reopening the intersection in summer 2025 would coincide with the implementation of Winnipeg Transit’s new route network, which will include a transit hub at Portage and Main.

Portage and Main has been closed to pedestrians since 1979. An agreement with neighbouring property owners to keep it closed expired in 2019.

James Richardson & Sons, which owns the Richardson office tower at the northwest corner of the intersection, said it supports pedestrian crossings at the intersection.

“James Richardson & Sons Ltd. is in favour of improving and revitalizing Winnipeg’s downtown, including taking the step of opening the Portage and Main intersection to pedestrian traffic,” spokesperson Barb Perreaux said in an emailed statement.

“We understand that the city is considering closing the underground pathway as part of the reopening of the intersection to above-ground pedestrian traffic, but without time to consider the details of such a plan, it is too early for us to comment further.”

People standing at a podium.
Mayor Scott Gillingham, flanked by councillors who represent downtown wards and are responsible for planning and public works, announced his intention to reopen Portage and Main to pedestrians. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Former mayor Glen Murray sought to reopen the intersection and held a contest to redesign it. That plan was shelved by his successor, Sam Katz, who said he wished to honour a 40-year deal with adjacent property owners to keep the intersection closed.

Brian Bowman, Katz’s successor, initially promised to reopen the intersection to pedestrians but shied away after a majority of Winnipeggers who voted in a non-binding plebiscite in 2018 indicated they opposed the idea.

Gillingham did not support reopening in 2018.

“There’s a lot that has changed in the past six years. We have information today we didn’t have then,” Gillingham said.

City councillors Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry), Janice Lukes (Waverley West), Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre) and Vivian Santos (Point Douglas) stood alongside Gillingham at the news conference.

Rollins, Gilroy and Santos represent every Winnipeg ward adjacent to downtown, while Rollins also chairs council’s property committee and Lukes chairs council’s public works committee.

Gillingham said he expects some city councillors to oppose his decision.

Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt is one of them. He questioned why a city planner wrote the report and not a city engineer.

“It raises alarms and concerns that we would rush to judgment that we would overturn a plebiscite decision made by the citizens of Winnipeg not to open that intersection,” Wyatt said in an interview.

He later jumped up to the podium where Gillingham spoke at the news conference and addressed people who were there. City hall staff responsible for audiovisual equipment turned his microphone off.

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