An online ad seeking qualified engineers to convert a 135-year-old rail bridge linking Ottawa and Gatineau into a pedestrian crossing was posted prematurely and will be removed, the City of Ottawa said Monday.
The request for qualifications was posted to the tendering site Merx last Thursday with the title, "Prince of Wales Bridge Enhancements — Conversion to a Pedestrian and Cycling Bridge over the Ottawa River."
Local transit advocates took that to mean the city is looking to permanently turn the interprovincial bridge that crosses over Lemieux Island into a multi-use pathway.
"I think that's a mistake," said David Jeanes, president of Transport Action Canada. "Once you convert a rail line to a trail, it's extremely hard to get the public to accept converting it back."
The Prince of Wales Bridge, which the City of Ottawa purchased in 2006, is still technically considered an active railway even though it has been years since a train has crossed it, Jeanes said.
The bridge is also included in the City of Ottawa's long-term Transportation Master Plan as a potential rail link to Gatineau.
"It really seems as though this is premature, particularly if it's being done in such a way as to preclude restoring the rail line in the future," Jeanes said.
The request for qualifications also came as a surprise to Moose Inc. The firm hopes to create and operate a 400-kilometre passenger rail network in the Ottawa region and its plans include the Prince of Wales Bridge.
Moose Inc.'s president and general manager, Joseph Potvin, said the company is preparing a legal submission to the Canadian Transportation Agency to ask the authority to intervene and force the city to preserve the bridge as a rail crossing.
The Prince of Wales Bridge falls under the CTA's jurisdiction because it is an interprovincial crossing.
Pedestrian use could be 'interim'
The request for qualifications posted on Merx includes a reference to "removal of tracks." However, the city said converting the bridge to a multi-use pathway doesn't necessarily preclude its future use as a transit link.
"The idea is... creating a way for bikes to go across, so it would be the laying of a deck across the track to allow for multipurpose pathway connection across Lemieux Island and Gatineau," said councillor Keith Egli, who is chair of the city's Transportation Committee.
Egli pointed out the conversion is included in the 2013 Ottawa Cycling Plan, part of the first phase of a $40-million, 18-year plan to improve the multi-use path network.
"This was not in any way meant to interfere with the possible future use of the bridge as an interprovincial transit crossing, but it was to make use of it in the interim," he said.
Egli acknowledged that the ad was posted prematurely.
"The posting on Merx was premature. There's still discussions going on with potential funding partners, so it was frankly a little bit early to put on Merx," he said.
In a statement, Deputy City Manager Nancy Schepers agreed.
"The RFQ was released prematurely as discussions with funding partners is at very early stages and council will be considering this within their overall term of council priorities this summer. The RFQ will be revisited once priorities have been established," she said.
Schepers also said any pedestrian or cycling path over the Prince of Wales Bridge "would not compromise future transit use for either bus and rail."
The 18-page request for qualifications can be viewed below.