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Winnipeg mayor wants Portage and Main reopened to pedestrians by July 1, 2025

Winnipeg’s mayor wants pedestrians to be able to cross the Portage Avenue and Main Street intersection above ground by July 1, 2025, at the latest.

Maintaining the underground concourse, which links all four corners of the city’s main office district via an underground roundabout, costs the city nearly $1 million every year, a news release from the mayor’s office said on Thursday.

The concourse is connected to the Winnipeg Square shopping mall and other subterranean pathways people use to cross the famous intersection.

Between 2018 and 2023, the annual operating expenses — for security, maintenance, cleaning services and utilities — exceeded the rental income earned by the city by an average of $965,832.

A report last week warned that repairs to the aging concourse would cost $73 million and cause four to five years of construction-induced traffic delays.

The ongoing expense to keep the underpass open is not sustainable, and there are better ways to use that money, Gillingham said in the news release.

The practical approach is to close the concourse and allow people to cross at street level, like other intersections, Gillingham said.

“There are 10,000 intersections in the city of Winnipeg, and for 150 years Winnipeggers have been crossing intersections,” he said.

“And you can cross every intersection at-grade except Portage and Main. This is just an intersection — an important intersection, but at the end of the day it’s just an intersection.”

A bald man in a navy-coloured suit stands in a foyer with flags in the background.
Mayor Scott Gillingham says the work to repair the infrastructure related to the underground concourse would cost $73 million and then need to be redone in 30-40 years. By that time, with inflation, the cost would likely exceed $200 million, he said. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The service life of the membrane that protects the underpass is 40 years, which means it would all have to be replaced again, Gillingham said.

“It’s not a one-time cost. And when you calculate the construction-related inflation on $73 million, that gets you up to $200-plus million 30-40 years from now,” he said.

“I don’t think future generations would appreciate that decision. I think it’s time to make the common-sense decision.”

ortage and Main was closed to pedestrians in 1979 and an agreement was signed with neighbouring property owners to keep it that way. That deal expired in 2019.

Should the city opt to close the concourse and do other repairs needed at the intersection, the cost would be in the $20 million to $50 million range, subject to further study — plus $10 million to remove barricades and install sidewalks as well as pedestrian traffic signals, the report released last week said.

“This is very rough number. We need to get a refined number on that,” Gillingham said on Thursday.

He wants to see the intersection reopened to pedestrians no later than July 1, 2025, to coincide with the launch of a new transit route network.

A report that went to the city’s property and development committee on Thursday contains the motion to reopen the intersection to pedestrians, jointly written by Gillingham and Coun. Sherri Rollins.

It also directs city administration to assess the condition of the underground “to determine the steps required to decommission and close the concourse to public access” and earmark $13 million for the redesign of the intersection and construction requirements.

The motion passed unanimously but will still need to be debated by the executive policy committee. If passed by EPC, it will move on to city council for debate and vote.

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