Fifth-Clegg pedestrian bridge could be built straighter — and sooner than 2020

Federal and provincial representatives are joining a push by Ottawa's mayor and a local councillor to have a much-needed pedestrian bridge over the Rideau Canal built ahead of schedule — and possibly in time for Canada's 150th birthday.

Federal and provincial politicians join local push to move up construction date

One of two new images unveiled this week of a proposed footbridge that would span the Rideau Canal and connect Fifth Avenue with Clegg Street. (Support Fifth-Clegg Canal Footbridge Facebook group)

Federal and provincial representatives are joining a push by Ottawa's mayor and a local councillor to have a much-needed pedestrian bridge over the Rideau Canal built ahead of schedule — and possibly in time for Canada's 150th birthday.

The city's transportation master plan calls for funding a pedestrian bridge connecting Fifth Avenue in the Glebe and Clegg Street in Old Ottawa East between 2020 and 2025.

But new designs unveiled last week for the bridge are generating hopes that it won't take years to connect the two neighbourhoods.

"It's a very important future link around active transportation, making sure that we connect Old Ottawa East and the Glebe," said Yasir Naqvi, the MPP for Ottawa Centre.

"There is a significant need for that kind of connectivity. So I'm very excited that we are at a state [where] we're actually looking at tangible design plans."

New designs 'very elegant'

The latest designs were made public at a Feb. 4 community meeting in Capital Coun. David Chernushenko's ward.

The earlier concept featured a swooping, circular bridge over the Rideau Canal — a "stunning" design but one that "would have been very complicated to build," Chernushenko told CBC Ottawa on Saturday.

The new bridge designs are straighter but still "very elegant," featuring lookouts over the canal, said Chernushenko.

David Chernushenko says the newest designs for the Fifth-Clegg pedestrian bridge are less likely to lead to construction delays or budget overruns. (CBC)

They're also less likely to lead to delays and cost overruns like those that plagued the construction of the Airport Parkway pedestrian bridge, he said.

While both the province and the federal government have expressed interest in funding their part of the bridge project, the city still has to submit final design plans that may take a year to get done, Chernushenko said.

"People all over the city, not just in urban wards, get that you connect communities by going over waterways, over highways," he said. "This one just seems so, so logical."

Long history of canal crossings

In recent history, the idea of a bridge connecting Fifth Avenue and Clegg Street has been on the city's radar since at least 2008, when it was mentioned in a city-wide cycling plan.

However, the desire for a bridge in that location goes back more than a century.

In 1915, a federal plan for the layout of Canada's capital called for a permanent bridge over the canal at Fifth Street.

It was never built, but for some time afterwards, Ottawans could cross from Old Ottawa East to the Glebe — and back again — by taking a ferry over the canal near that location.

Then, in the 1950s and 1960s, the National Capital Commission began building a wooden bridge each winter over the canal a few blocks north of the new bridge's proposed location.

This earlier curved design of the proposed Fifth-Clegg bridge has been set aside in favour of a straighter design that Capital Coun. David Chernushenko calls "elegant." (CBC)

During his annual state of the city address last month, Mayor Jim Watson said he also wanted to secure design funding from upper levels of government either in 2016 or 2017 for the new pedestrian bridge.

Naqvi said it's too early to speculate just when the funding would come through for the "roughly" $17.5-million bridge, but the ideal scenario would having construction start on the bridge by Canada's 150th birthday in 2017.

"[It's] an amazing opportunity for us to really talk about a modern country — a 21st-century nation that really believes in active transportation," he said.

2018 more realistic: McKenna

Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna campaigned during the recent federal election on a pledge to get funding in place so that the bridge could be built ahead of schedule.

She told CBC Ottawa that she would be looking for money under the Liberals' "green infrastructure" fund, as part of the upcoming federal budget.

"I know when I was knocking on doors there was certainly a lot of interest to get this built," McKenna said. "It's good for business. It's good for the environment."

However, 2018 — not 2017 — might be a more realistic timeline, she added.

"I would love to see shovels in the ground for 2017 ... but that might be a little challenging."