Ottawa·ELECTION 2018

Candidates take different routes to solving south-end gridlock

Candidates vying to represent the suburban Ottawa ward of Gloucester-South Nepean are grappling with a difficult dilemma: how to ensure road infrastructure keeps up pace with development so existing residents can get where they need to go.

Gloucester-South Nepean residents complain development outpacing road improvements

The current development boom in Riverside South has seen the ward's population grow by 5.7 per cent, or 3,000 people, since 2013. Neighbours complain local roads haven't kept pace. (Kate Porter/CBC)

In the southern suburbs of Ottawa, a single issue is dominating this election campaign: new homes are sprouting up far more quickly than the roads, transit and recreation facilities needed to support them.

Some two-lane roads have become so clogged that a couple of candidates running for council in Gloucester-South Nepean ward are openly asking whether development should slow down until infrastructure can catch up.

Gridlock frustration 

"It's a nightmare. You're waiting there half an hour to get out of your own community," said Findlay Creek resident Sophia Geeves, who commutes to Gatineau.

Riverside South and Findlay Creek have together added nearly 1,700 households in the past five years.

Albion Road and Bank Street both need to be widened from the two-lane country roads they've always been, said Geeves, especially with the Hard Rock Cafe planning a $318-million expansion at the Rideau Carleton Raceway.

"Nothing's been done. A lot of people are frustrated here," she said.

'We can do better'

It's an issue that gets Carol Anne Meehan speaking passionately about why she's running to represent her ward on Ottawa city council.

"Not everybody can live in the downtown core. We have to address some serious infrastructure and commuter issues, and if we don't, God help us," said the former television anchor and radio host. 

Meehan believes the city must consider a variety of solutions including building priority lanes and promoting telecommuting.

With more developments, things will only get worse, Meehan said.

"We're going to have to stop and ask ourselves, are we willing to continue to grow without putting the infrastructure in place to service these areas?" she asked.

"No one's going to like this, but quite frankly we're going to have to slow down development."

Carol Anne Meehan, a former television anchor and radio host, is running for council in Gloucester-South Nepean. She has lived in the ward for more than two decades. (Kate Porter/CBC)

'We've accomplished a lot of things'

Incumbent Michael Qaqish said he, too, is frustrated by how long it can take for road projects to happen, and knows infrastructure is top of mind for his constituents.

During his first term as councillor, Qaqish held up planning files to force developers into funding intersection upgrades earlier than planned, he said.

It's a complicated situation, though, and Qaqish knows it: developers have a right to build on their land, and house-hunters want new homes.

"It's a popular community, so we're not going to be holding people up from buying a home. That's not our job. Our job is to make sure the infrastructure is there to support it," he said.

Qaqish believes better public transit is key to combating congestion, and has pushed to take light rail farther into Riverside South instead of ending in a field near Bowesville Road.

"Things take time to happen at city hall, and government in general. Nothing happens overnight," he said.

Michael Qaqish is seeking a second term as councillor for Ward 22, which includes Riverside South, Findlay Creek and part of Barrhaven. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Employment corridor

Another candidate, Harpreet Singh, believes growing knowledge jobs in the ward — and keeping them there — is a viable solution to the gridlock dilemma.

Singh has an MBA, taught at Algonquin College and has worked around the world. 

He'd like to see the emergence of an employment corridor with a focus on emerging technology such as artificial intelligence, a rich seam of local industry running east-west from Highway 416 through Barrhaven to Bank Street.

"Yes, we need to widen these roads right now. But without the jobs, without actually doing something about the traffic in the long term, we are not creating a sustainable Ward 22," he said.

Like Meehan, Singh believes for now, Ottawa must build homes and infrastructure in lockstep.

Two other candidates are running in Gloucester-South Nepean, but neither Zaff Ansari nor Irene Mei responded to requests for an interview. There are no all-candidates debates planned in the ward.

Harpreet Singh has taught in the business school at Algonquin College and worked internationally. He's running for council in Gloucester-South Nepean.