Ottawa council kills light rail project

Ottawa will not be getting a new north-south light rail line anytime soon, city council has decided.

Backing out of $778-million contract may cost $250 million to $300 million

Ottawa will not be getting a new north-south light rail line anytime soon, city council has decided.

Council voted 13-11 Thursday afternoon in favour of scrapping both the original $778-million light railcontract approved by the previous council in July and theshortened, slightly cheaperlight railplan passed last week.

The decision — made less than two hours before a crucial 5 p.m. contract deadline — means the city forgoes for now $400 million in federal and provincial fundingpromised for the original plan.

City lawyershave estimatedthatthe decisioncould also cost the city between $250 million and $300 million in claims from Siemens-PCL/Dufferin, the group of companiescontracted to design, build and maintain the rail line through an agreement worth$778.2-million. The city has already spent $65 millionon the project.

Council's decision was between three choices:

  • The original plan, which rannorth from Barrhaven and east through downtown to the University of Ottawa and was approved by the previous council in July.
  • The shortened plan, which ran north from Barrhaven, but stopped at LeBreton Flats, west of downtown, and was expected to cost about $70 million less.
  • Neither plan.

Earlier in the day, it wasrevealed that council had only until5 p.m. ET Thursday to makeits crucial decision — notuntil the start of Dec. 15 as previously thought.

A letter arrived Thursdayconfirming Ontario would hand over $200 millionfor theCity of Ottawa's light rail transit line if council voted in favour ofthe original plan.

And Siemens-PCL/Dufferin sent a letter late Wednesday threateninglegal action againstthe city if both plans fell through.

Neither letter swayed council into voting in favour of either existinglight rail plan.

Council concluded the vote more than an hour before the deadline.

A vote on the projectwas being held because the provincial and federal governments said they could notreview the revised light rail plan approved by council last week — and confirm $400 million in funding — before theproject's contract deadline.

Senior governments wanted review

The two higher governments committed $200 million each to the original proposal, but said the revised proposal was different enough to warrant another complete review.

A day before the province sentthe letter confirming its commitment to the old plan, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuintygave his view about changes to the proposal.

"They're trying to change something on the fly which doesn't readily lend itself to fast changes," he said, adding that the original proposal came out of two years of discussions among three levels of government.

He added that he did not personally favour the revised plan.

"It seems … just to me as a lay person, that making sure our new light rail system moves through the downtown would be important."