The City of Winnipeg has set out on a plan to build a highway through River Heights and Waverley West, ultimately connecting Ness Avenue with the south perimeter highway. Three reasons are given for this, one of which makes a more modest version of the proposal defensible. A second one is indefensible, and the third is a really bad idea.

The plan calls for Kenaston Boulevard to be expanded to six lanes – nine lanes at the intersection with the Sterling Lyon Parkway. The defensible argument is that additional capacity on Kenaston will be needed to serve a mega-complex of big box stores, the Tuxedo Yards development, featuring furniture giant IKEA, at the intersection of Kenaston and Sterling Lyon.
Unquestionably the city should ensure reasonable access from the centre of the metropolitan area to a new commercial mega-complex, and that could call for increasing the capacity of Kenaston Boulevard, although we can almost always count on civil engineers to overestimate needed road capacity – as they did in planning the Norwood Bridge a few years ago. It would be reasonable, therefore, to look into the possibilities for a less drastic expansion of road capacity than what is being recommended, remembering that the road will necessarily reduce the attractiveness of the primarily residential neighbourhood that may be developed there in future.
If the city were genuinely interested in a reasonable degree of control over its own development, it would also be considering a more central location for IKEA, as former Appeal Court Justice Charles Huband has suggested, and asking some critical questions about the impact of another mega-complex on commerce in the rest of the city. But the real mistake was the previous location of a mega-complex at Kenaston and McGillivray, still farther out. With that mistake now irreversable, the IKEA complex becomes infill development.
In short, some road development may be necessary to accommodate the planned commercial complex. What are the other two reasons given for the plan for a massive expansion of Kenaston? The first is that the road will accommodate southbound international truck traffic from the airport. That reason suggests the city’s civil engineers need a refresher course in introductory road-building.
If they take a look at their intro texts, they will be reminded that the first function of an urban expressway system is to enable traffic that does not need to traverse the city to by-pass it. That is the function of our perimeter highway and of by-pass highways across North America. Truckers are well accustomed to the extra mileage such by-passes incur and welcome being spared the necessity of down-shifting for city traffic.
Somebody in the Public Works Department understands that, because the city is also planning a direct link to the west perimeter, which is located only a short distance from the airport. Sensible road planning would shrink from the suggestion that airport traffic be offered any encouragement at all to traverse River Heights. It would in fact ensure that any Kenaston expansion is planned in such a way as to discourage unnecessary truck traffic. That again makes the case for a more modest expansion than the one that is being planned.
The third reason for the expansion bears on the city’s unwise decision to open up the massive new Waverley West tract for immediate development (For more detail on this decision, see the last few paragrphs of “Are you tired of the sprawl game?“). Development of Waverley West supposedly requires the extension of the planned Kenaston highway across Waverley West to the south perimeter highway. The effect would be the provision of high-capacity road access, at city expense, almost to the edge of any new developments in the neighbouring municipalities of Ritchot and Macdonald.
The last time the city did that, with the extension of McGillivray Boulevard to the perimeter, we were rewarded with an entire new subdivision just outside the boundaries of the city. Today, residents of Oak Bluff travel regularly in and out of the city, on a road thoughtfully provided for them by the good citizens of Winnipeg, to enjoy the services provided by Winnipeg taxpayers, without having to pay property taxes to the city.
There is no reason to repeat that experience. Future residents of Waverley West can have reasonable access to the centre of the metropolitan area, and, with more modest road development, citizens throughout Winnipeg can have reasonable access to the IKEA development, without building a highway across River Heights and Waverley West.
For a discussion of the wider significance of the Norwood Bridge expansion, see:
Christopher Leo, “The North American Growth Fixation and the Inner City: Roads Of Excess.” World Transport Policy & Practice, 4 (4) 1998, 24-29. All issues of this journal are available free on line, at the journal’s web site. My article starts on p. 24 of the issue accessible at the link labelled “wtpp04.4.pdf”.

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