Ottawa

Heavy traffic stalling job growth in Kanata, tech firms complain

Gridlock in Ottawa's west end has created a roadblock to attracting high-tech talent, and business leaders want to know what city hall plans to do about it.

Slow commute a turn-off for sought-after tech talent, west end business leader say

Traffic congestion is making it more difficult to attract talent to Ottawa's west end tech park, business leaders in Kanata say.

Gridlock in Ottawa's west end has created a roadblock to attracting high-tech talent, and business leaders want to know what city hall plans to do about it.

Workers trying to make their way down March Road to the Kanata North Technology Park often find themselves stuck in traffic stretching all the way to the Queensway, and there are no speedy public transit alternatives.

Tech companies looking to fill vacancies say that's a growing frustration in an already shallow talent pool.

Kanata business leaders made their case to west end councillors Thursday during a panel hosted by the Ottawa Board of Trade.

They say they're already in direct competition with major tech hubs around the world for mid-level skilled workers; now they're competing with downtown-based businesses such as Shopify, too.

"Transportation can be an issue that makes it even harder to hire," said Andrew Penny, co-chair of the board's economic development committee and head of Kanata-based firm Kingsford Consulting.

Andrew Penny is the co-chair of the Ottawa Board of Trade's economic development committee. (Laura Osman/CBC)

Long commutes 

The Kanata North Business Association surveyed 1,550 workers about their commute. It found 81 per cent take public transit to get to work, with average one-way trips of about one hour, compared to an average drive of up to 45 minutes.

"It's an issue city hall needs to take seriously," said Deborah Lovegrove, the marketing lead for the business association.

Kanata North Coun. Jenna Sudds, a former president of the Kanata North Business Association, made that commute every day for six years, and said it's especially slow for people heading north on March Road in the mornings.

Redesigning March Road and overhauling transit service to the business park are costly options, but they'll likely both be part of the conversation when city council debates the city's transportation master plan later this year.

For now, Sudds said she's focused on short-term solutions such as adjusting traffic lights on March Road to improve flow.

Kanata North Coun. Jenna Sudds says she understands the frustrations of workers who commute to the tech park. (Laura Osman/CBC)

Autonomous vehicle

West end councillors are also pushing to get the next phase of LRT to Kanata as quickly as possible, but that will require additional provincial funding.

Part of the problem is that the big tech companies aren't all concentrated in the tech park; they're spread across Kanata and Stittsville, said Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley.

Hubley, who chairs the city's transit commission, said he'd be interested in partnering with tech companies to use autonomous vehicles to shuttle workers to jobs in the west end.

Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley, who chairs Ottawa's transit commission, says the city should consider all its options to improve traffic flow to the tech park. (Laura Osman/CBC)

"Let's look at all our options to move people around the city," he said.

In the meantime, Hubley said there are less futuristic improvements that could provide relief.

"You can see the highway was widened, we're trying to put in the dedicated transit lanes that will bring the buses up, there's a plan for bus rapid transit down March Road."

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