Ottawa light rail goes ahead — but not downtown

Ottawa city council has approved a light rail plan that stops just short of Ottawa's city centre.

Ottawa city councilwill be buildingits north-south light rail line after all— or most of it anyway.

On Wednesday, the council voted 12-11 in favourof alighter light rail contract thatcutsoff thedowntown portion of the route, along with about $70 million of the cost.

Theshortenednorth-south light rail line will run from Barrhaven Centre to Bayview transit station on LeBreton Flats, just west of downtown.
The downtown portion of the rail line was unpopular with merchants in the area. Now, that part of the line has been put on hold. ((CBC))

Transit users who want to head downtown or to the University of Ottawa — two destinations on the project'soriginal planned route — must transfer to a bus.

Council plans to use the savings to get a start onother transit projectsof the project: improved east-westbus serviceand a transit tunnel through the city's downtown.

The line will still be designed, built and operatedby the same group of companies that were in the original version of the contract.

In July, the previouscity council approved the original $778.2-million contract with Siemens-PCL/Dufferin. In that version,the line followed the same route to Bayview station, but continued through downtownto the University of Ottawa.

However, the downtown, above-ground section of the original proposal was unpopular with merchants in the area.

Council needed to vote on a version of theagreementby Dec. 15 to avoidcontract penalties.

Not everyone was satisfied with the new plan. But some, such as Coun. Georges Bédard, said it was better than no light rail at all.

"Well, at least we're going to build some of it,"Bédard said. "That's really encouraging. But it doesn't go downtown, which is where people want to go."

Two or threeyears needed to study downtown tunnel

OnTuesday, council decided tovote on theproposal for a shortened lineduring a three-hour, closed-door meeting also attended by city lawyers and senior staff. The actual vote was held Wednesday.

Coun. Diane Deans said Tuesday thatthe city wouldbuild the shortened line while exploring the possibility of building an underground tunnel downtown.

After two or three years of studies, she said, council would "come back, hopefully, with phase two of the project, which would be a lasting solution for the core."

Deans saidskipping the downtown portion of the line for now might save enough money tobegin work on an east-west light rail line.

Mayor Larry O'Brien said Tuesday that hewas on board with the changes to the proposal, and soare companies that are set to build the rail line.

"They're very open to that. Yes, they are," he told reporters afterthe meeting. "No, I doubt very much there's going to be legal action from a mutually agreed-upon change."