Winnipeg’s traffic signal branch responds to allegations of inconsistent and unnecessary work projects

Staff from the City of Winnipeg’s public works department responded Thursday to an independent researcher’s allegations of frivolous projects being completed within traffic signals branch, saying there’s an explanation for all the work they do.

Christian Sweryda, a second year law student and Winnipeg School Division employee, told a special meeting of the city’s finance committee he has studied hundreds of intersections and has documented numerous examples of traffic signals and poles being changed out unnecessarily.

“Poles aren’t moving towards or closer to the intersection it’s just different from however it was,” Sweryda told councillors. “The only pattern that really exists is how ever an intersection’s built, it will be changed.”

Using a series of images from Google Street View images captured over the past several years and his own photographs, Sweryda estimates he’s conducted nearly 1,000 hours of research on the design and placement of traffic signals and poles at hundreds of city intersections.

Sweryda said so far he’s studied 77 per cent of Winnipeg’s 681 signaled intersections.

In a public presentation to city councilors who sit on the finance committee, Sweryda said he’s found inconsistencies in the standards and practices of the Traffic Signals Branch within the Public Works Department.

“Poles that are on the left side will go to the right side. Poles that are on the right side will go to the left side,” Sweryda said. “There’s no uniform direction as to how these poles are being changed or these intersections are being changed or being rebuilt — and in many cases infrastructure that’s only a few years old is being changed.”

In a lengthy and complex presentation in response to Sweryda’s research, the city’s Traffic Signals Engineer Roger Petursson said there are a number of factors that could lead to the replacement or redesign of traffic lights and poles.

They include damage, needing new wiring, accessibility upgrades and changes in vehicle and bicycle detection technology — work Petursson said is sometimes performed at the same time as street renewal takes place.

“There is an ideal perfect traffic signal design for every location but then you have to look at underground infrastructure, overhead infrastructure,” Petursson explained to councillors. “What can we do to accommodate all of those.”

Sweryda’s research previously prompted calls for an audit over allegations of waste and mismanagement within the department. Jim Berezowsky, the city’s director of Public Works said a preliminary audit is already underway. I have defended the department’s work.

“This isn’t a two minute story as we know,” Berezowsky told the finance committee. “And so on top of it, we believe there is an explanation for each and every Google picture.”

Sweryda, who’s not an engineer, stands by his research. He said the work speaks for itself and believes it shows a need for a complete overhaul of the traffic management system to improve traffic safety and save taxpayer dollars.

“A lot of what I’ve looked at isn’t so much saying it should be done this way or that way,” he said. “What I’ve looked at is saying, ‘well it should be done some way.’”

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