Ottawa

$1B from province for Ottawa's LRT phase 2 in question

City council is set to award a $3-billion contract for the second phase of LRT in less than three weeks, but officials still don't know if the provincial government will ante up its third of the bill.

Council is set to award the contract for LRT2 in a few weeks, but the PCs haven't confirmed funding yet

The second stage of light rail will stretch further east, south, and west than originally planned, (City of Ottawa)

Less than three weeks before city council is set to award its largest single contract ever, Ottawa officials still don't know if the provincial government will ante up its third of the bill for the $3-billion LRT expansion.

The previous Liberal government committed $1.2 billion for Phase 2 of light rail in a letter to Mayor Jim Watson in May 2018 to help pay to extend the O-Train system to Trim Road in the east, Moodie Drive in the west, the Riverside South town centre near Limebank Road in the south, as well as connections to Algonquin College and the airport.

Mayor Jim Watson says he's been told that Premier Doug Ford was on board to fund $1.2-billion of the LRT expansion, but there's been no agreement less than three weeks before council is set to award the contract. (CBC)
Watson said after the council meeting Wednesday that he's "been assured on a number of occasions by local MPPs, and by the Premier himself … that they are fully on board for phase two."

He said he'd be speaking with an official in Premier Doug Ford's office "later this week or early next week. And our desire is to have that information before we go to committee of the whole at the end of February to talk about stage two and award the contract."

Ford indicated support for LRT2

During the provincial election, Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford said he was behind expanding the light rail in Ottawa.

"The PC Party has committed to province-wide funding for transit, which includes completing stage 2 of Ottawa's Light Rapid Transit project," Ford wrote in a letter to Watson during the campaign. (See the letter here.)

After he was elected premier, Ford appeared supportive. Watson said on a number of occasions that Ford was clear the province is going to fund its portion of the next extensions to Ottawa's light rail line.

And last October, shortly after the municipal election, the Ontario Treasury Board wrote in a statement to CBC that "during the campaign, the Premier committed to moving forward with Phase II of the Ottawa LRT. We are reviewing the agreements made between the City of Ottawa and the Government of Ontario to ensure taxpayers' money is spent as efficiently and effectively as possible."

Months later, no cash

But several months later, the province's review of the LRT Phase 2 funding does not seem to be completed.

In response to further questions from CBC, the Ontario Treasury Board stated again that "all projects approved by the government must represent the best use of public funds to go forward."

Also, the statement pointed out that Ottawa received $37 million in gas tax funding last month to help provide public transit services. The Ministry of Transportation could also not provide any assurances that the $1 billion for the second phase of LRT was headed this way.

It's hard to see how the LRT expansion could be completed on time in 2023 when the awarding of the contract keeps moving, and given that the Confederation Line has been delayed twice so far. (CBC)
Delays start to appear unavoidable

Council is set to vote on the winning bid on Feb. 27. The awarding of the contract to expand the LRT has already been delayed twice, once at the request of the bidders and another time due to last fall's election. The project is supposed to begin this summer, and be completed by 2023.

It's hard to see how the expansion can meet its original schedule given that the contract date keeps moving, and that the first phase of LRT is almost a year late at this point. While the Confederation Line is supposed to be handed over to the city on Mar. 31, Rideau Transit Group — the SNC Lavalin-led consortium building the light-rail line — refuses to answer media requests about whether it will meet that date.

Officials from RTG are supposed to come to council's finance committee next Tuesday during an update on the $2.1-billion Confederation Line project.

In the meantime, Ottawa city manager Steve Kanellakos said the city is "confident we're going to be able to award [the contract] this spring" but said that it would not go ahead until it had written assurances first.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joanne Chianello

City affairs analyst

Joanne Chianello is an award-winning journalist and CBC Ottawa's city affairs analyst. You can email her at joanne.chianello@cbc.ca or tweet her at @jchianello.

now