NCC steers clear of picking location for 6th interprovincial span

The National Capital Commission has updated technical studies for a sixth interprovincial crossing, but as for where it should go — they'll cross that bridge when they come to it.

Technical studies complete, but as for where, they'll cross that bridge when they come to it

The Ottawa end of the Alexandra Bridge over the Ottawa River in late March 2020. (Jonathan Dupaul/CBC)

The National Capital Commission (NCC) is steering clear of recommending a location for a sixth interprovincial crossing, at least for now.

Instead, the NCC told its board Thursday that it will look for government direction before it wades further into the controversial issue.

In its 2019 budget, the federal government asked the NCC to refresh its technical studies on the project. The directive came as a surprise to many who thought the idea of another span between Ottawa and Gatineau was dead in the water.

The NCC updated eight technical studies as directed, but said it wasn't tasked with choosing any one location. The technical studies do rank the Lower Duck site slightly higher than the Kettle Island site, which proved controversial when it emerged as top choice in 2013.

The Lower Duck site would require less land and attract more traffic away from other bridges, according to the studies.

After refreshing eight technical studies, a crossing at Lower Duck Island was found to have slightly less impact than the former top choice of Kettle Island. (National Capital Commission)

"A billion-dollar bridge is not a priority for us. There's very little support amongst elected officials on the Ottawa side for a bridge," said Mayor Jim Watson, is a non-voting member of the NCC board.

"We're dealing with significant challenges in public transit funding and alternative modes of transportation. Those dollars could be better invested and better spent."

The NCC will now embark on a long-term plan to improve transportation between the two cities. The plan will take into account travel patterns and the impact of COVID-19, including the possibility that more people in the region will be working from home in the future.

The parcel the NCC wants to redevelop at LeBreton Flats is located between Pimisi station and the future central library. (Kate Porter/CBC)

LeBreton sale on pause

Plans to sell a parcel of land beside Pimisi station on LeBreton Flats for redevelopment are "on pause" because of COVID-19, Katie Paris, the NCC's director of the LeBreton project, told the board.

Paris said the NCC is waiting for the real estate market and development industry to stabilize.

"New office development is a major wild card," Paris said.

A coalition of community associations, environmental groups and affordable housing advocates wants the NCC to sign a legal agreement to ensure affordable housing, local hiring and social services when the area is finally developed.

The NCC said it plans to create a public advisory group to tackle issues such as housing affordability and environmental sustainability.

"We think the public advisory group is the right approach, given the role of the NCC," CEO Tobi Nussbaum told reporters. "We want this [advisory group] to be a forum for the long term." 

The proposed tramway would run along chemin d'Aylmer in Gatineau, Que., before crossing into Ottawa. (Supplied)

STO shows off tram plan

Gatineau's transit agency also showed the board its plans for a tram that could one day cross Gatineau Park and travel into downtown Ottawa. 

The Société de transport de l'Outaouais (STO) said once the tram crosses the Ottawa River via the Portage Bridge, it could either tunnel under Sparks Street or run along Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill. The STO is conducting a survey to gauge which option the public prefers.

NCC board members called better transportation links between the two cities "long overdue."

"It's surprising, as someone who doesn't live in Ottawa, how unintegrated the [Ottawa and Gatineau] transit systems are," said Michael Foderick, an NCC board member and lawyer from Toronto.

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