Ottawa

Budget calls for new bridges, but contains few details

The federal budget unveiled Tuesday calls for two new bridges spanning the Ottawa River, but observers say the devil's in the details.

Liberals call for Alexandra Bridge replacement, 6th Ottawa River crossing

The federal budget unveiled Tuesday proposes demolishing and replacing the 118-year-old Alexandra Bridge, but doesn't specifically allocate money for the project. (Ian Black/CBC)

The federal government is calling for two new bridges spanning the Ottawa River, but will cross the questions of where, when and how much when they come to them.

Tuesday's budget calls for the demolition and eventual replacement of the 118-year-old Alexandra Bridge linking Ottawa and Gatineau, and promises a sixth bridge across the Ottawa River as part of a long-term crossing plan.

The Alexandra Bridge project is expected to cause major traffic delays for motorists in the National Capital Region that could last years.

The bridge currently carries nearly 10 per cent of vehicular traffic between the two cities, and one-third of the pedestrian traffic.

Missing from the budget, however, are any details about what the project will cost. The budget only mentions about $80 million over 10 years for bridge maintenance and "improvements" in the region.

Old debates

The plan for a sixth crossing would be spearheaded by the National Capital Commission, according to the government.

Again, there are few details, but the budget mentions "refreshing existing studies."

Among those studies is one dating back to the early 1990s that recommended building a bridge connecting the Aviation Parkway and Montée Paiement across Kettle Island, but the plan was set aside in the face of vehement opposition.

A former plan for an Ottawa-Gatineau crossing over Kettle Island was set aside amid vehement opposition. ((National Capital Commission))

"We've tried that [many] years ago, it failed miserably and we spent millions," said Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin.

"We've been in that movie before. I think it's going to fail again."

Pedneaud-Jobin stressed both municipalities must work together and agree on the location of any new bridge rather than accept a "top-down" directive.

Meanwhile, MP Anita Vandenbeld insisted a west-end crossing is a non-starter.

'Devil's in the details'

Mayor Jim Watson agreed with his Gatineau counterpart about the Kettle Island plan, and called into question whether a sixth crossing is needed at all.

"The city has been very clear we don't support a bridge at Kettle Island. That would eviscerate a number of different neighbourhoods, and we're not on for that," Watson said.

"I'm not entirely sure the purpose of going and studying another crossing."

The federal government has set aside $57 million for the city of Ottawa in its latest budget, including plans for a sixth Ottawa River crossing. An exact location has yet to be determined. 1:21

Watson said a future tunnel to carry truck traffic under Ottawa's downtown is a bigger priority. According to a 2016 study, it would cost between $1.2 billion and $2 billion.

"You know, we can't have these trucks going down King Edward Avenue, Waller Street and Rideau Street, killing and hurting people," Watson said

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury has also advocated moving forward on a tunnel that would divert large truck traffic from Ottawa's downtown.

A proposed traffic tunnel under Ottawa's downtown would cost up to $2 billion, according to a 2016 study, but there's no mention of it in the latest federal budget. (City of Ottawa)

Fleury said he'd also be open to a bridge, so long as communities are properly engaged.

"The devil's in the details," he said. "When do they plan to be able to fund this? Who will lead the effort? How will they engage with communities?"

With files from Nathalie Tremblay and Adrian Harewood

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