Here's why your commute is so horrendous

Road and lane closures have been piling up on each other in the last few weeks to the point where afternoon congestion in the core is basically unavoidable.

Planned projects are piling on top of unplanned closures

Drivers slowly make their way north on Bank Street in downtown Ottawa during the afternoon commute on May 15, 2019. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Good morning commuters!

Road and lane closures have been piling up on each other in the last few weeks to the point where afternoon congestion in the core is basically unavoidable.

Here are some of the reasons, planned and unplanned, why we're here.

Portage Bridge

Work on the Portage Bridge's bicycle lane is taking away a Gatineau-bound traffic lane just west of the Parliamentary district until June.

One of the two remaining lanes is for buses and vehicles with more than one person inside, while the other is for all non-transit vehicles.

This was already a significant issue before the floods — now that the Chaudière Crossing is closed, it's the only bridge in the area, and the lane closure is causing bad backups into Centretown and LeBreton Flats.

This screengrab from Tuesday afternoon shows drivers waiting to turn from eastbound Wellington Street onto the Portage Bridge. (City of Ottawa)

Gatineau ramps

There have been ramp closures and lane restrictions on the connections between boulevard Maisonneuve, Highway 5 and Highway 50 since March.

They're expected to last until the week after Canada Day.

The closures were already backing up traffic over the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge into Lowertown before flooding narrowed Highway 50 in both directions south of the Draveurs Bridge — and now, things are even worse.

Queensway restrictions

Work to eventually expand Highway 417 west of downtown Ottawa is creating a few traffic restrictions.

Ramps are closed from the westbound highway at Carling Avenue — a closure that's been extended until May 31, because of unforeseen soil issues — and eastbound at Maitland Avenue until May 28.

Roadwork is also bringing down the speed limit in the general area this week.

Sandy Hill ramps

The ramps connecting Nicholas Street to Highway 417, a busy entrance and exit for downtown Ottawa, have "long duration" lane reductions, according to the MTO.

Commuters have told us that drivers have been caught by surprise by the lane reductions, slamming on their brakes to slow down in time.

According to one caller, the work caused at least one rear-ender collision Tuesday morning.

Now for what wasn't planned.

The Chaudière Bridge near the Canadian War Museum was closed in late April due to high water levels on the Ottawa River. It's now expected to remain closed until August. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Chaudière Crossing

Of the five bridges in the capital, the Chaudière Bridge takes the second-fewest amount of vehicles over the Ottawa River — but that's still 19,000 vehicles a day.

Now, they have to find another route as the bridge is completely closed until August because of both flooding and scheduled repairs.

Do drivers take the Portage instead? Remember, its Gatineau-bound lanes are under construction and it's not easy to get across.

Do they take the downtown Alexandra or Macdonald-Cartier bridges? The issues in Hull have severely slowed them down.

This screengrab from Tuesday afternoon shows the backup on Ottawa's King Edward Avenue at Rideau Street, approaching the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge. (City of Ottawa)

Also, transport trucks now have to take the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge, the only other crossing they can use.

Do they head four kilometres west to the Champlain Bridge? It would be a good idea if it weren't already so popular — the Champlain Bridge backed up Island Park Drive to the 417 on Tuesday, which bled onto the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway and Scott Street, which bled onto Parkdale Avenue. And so on.

This won't change until next month, when a) the Portage Bridge work will end and give drivers there a full crossing again, and b) the next phase of the Chaudière Crossing construction starts, which will at least let buses through.

Scott Street backed up west of Tunney's Pasture on Tuesday afternoon. (City of Ottawa)

Highway 50 narrows

Flooding has removed one lane each way from the busiest road out of Hull between Highway 5 and the Draveurs Bridge.

This is intensifying the backlog up the highway in the mornings, but in the afternoon it's one of the factors backing traffic badly up onto King Edward Avenue — which spreads its congestion tentacles back onto Sussex Drive, St. Patrick Street, the Vanier Parkway, Beechwood Avenue and more.

Sussex Drive backed up at the turn to the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge on Tuesday afternoon. (City of Ottawa)
The intersection of the Vanier Parkway, top left, and St. Patrick Street Tuesday afternoon. (City of Ottawa)

What all this means is that at its worst, all of Ottawa between Westboro and New Edinburgh, the Ottawa River and the Queensway can be incredibly congested.

The issues on the highway can also lead to more traffic on Baseline and West Hunt Club roads, as people try their backup plans.

The receding floodwaters will gradually make things better for drivers, including those who'll have both lanes of Highway 50 available once more.

But the commute may not really improve for another few weeks.

If you have a traffic or commuter gripe about driving, cycling or being a pedestrian commuter — anything from problem intersections, to parking, to inefficient routes — send it to Doug at​

And remember, you can share what you see on the roads with me on Twitter at @cbcotttraffic. Or give me a ring at 613-288-6900.

About the Author

Doug Hempstead

CBC Ottawa's traffic specialist

Doug Hempstead is CBC Ottawa's traffic specialist and can be heard on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning and All In A Day. Sometimes, he even sleeps. Originally from the Ottawa Valley, he is a musician and family man - married with two daughters. Doug is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience in the region covering all types of news. He welcomes your input on traffic issues and can be called directly while the shows are airing at 613-288-6900. Tweet him at @cbcotttraffic or @DougHempstead. His e-mail is


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