Ottawa's LRT consortium looking to keep schedule on track — but offering no guarantees

This week's incident at the eastern end of Ottawa's LRT tunnel isn't expected to cause any delays to the $2.1-billion project. It's June's major sinkhole that may prevent original timelines from being met.

Still 30 metres of tunnelling left after June's major sinkhole on Rideau Street

It's possible that the Rideau Street sinkhole that occurred in June may cause the LRT project to be delayed. (Patrick Pilon/Radio-Canada)

This week's accident near the eastern portal of Ottawa's LRT tunnel isn't expected to cause any delays to the $2.1-billion project.

But the consortium building the rail system is regrouping to figure out how to make up for time lost because of the Rideau Street sinkhole — and how to meet its deadline for the massive project.

Right now I'm not going to say anything because that's something that we're looking into.- Peter Lauch, Rideau Transit Group- Peter Lauch, Rideau Transit Group

According to the technical director of the Rideau Transit Group, officials are still looking at how to "mitigate" the effects of the June 8 sinkhole that resulted in a gaping crater just east of Sussex Drive.

When asked if he could guarantee that the LRT would meet its timeline, Peter Lauch of Rideau Transit Group said: "Right now I'm not going to say anything because that's something that we're looking into."

June 2017 deadline for above-ground work

A month after the sinkhole occurred, officials were still saying they didn't expect it would delay the project. The agreement that council approved in 2012 called for the LRT to be complete in spring of 2018.

RTG is also under obligation to have all the above-ground work in downtown Ottawa completed by June 1, 2017, ahead of the sesquicentennial Canada Day celebrations.

Now, though, it's still not clear how the company will keep the project on time.

When Rideau Street collapsed back in June, there were 50 metres of digging left to complete the tunnel below. The whole tunnel was to be excavated by the end of the summer, or early fall.

The sinkhole caused weeks, if not months, of delays.  A water main under the street burst during the June 8 event, and it took city crews two hours to shut off the valves, flooding 300 metres of the tunnel. At one point the water was more than three metres deep. RTG spent weeks pumping out the tunnel.

Slow going

Digging began again in early August, although it appears to be slow going. In more than three months, RTG has excavated just 20 metres. 

Soon, workers will begin to drill into the hardened concrete that was poured into the crater and pump a special grout into the drill holes. That grout will help stabilize the concrete through which the rest of the tunnel will be built.

RTG is building a schedule ... so they can finish on time.- Steve Cripps, City of Ottawa's director of rail implementation- Steve Cripps, City of Ottawa's director of rail implementation

According to Steve Cripps, the city's director of rail implementation, RTG is looking to complete the tunnelling by the end of the year — at least three months after originally anticipated.

"RTG would have had a schedule before the sinkhole that would have shown what was going to happen when," said Cripps. "That schedule is now null and void."

But he says he isn't worried, as the company has told the city that it's "building a schedule to mitigate the impacts so they can finish on time."

5 months later, no report

That's why RTG is trying to speed up work on other areas of the LRT.

"We're trying to minimize the ramifications of the sinkhole," said Lauch. "We're looking at if we have some alternative means of doing different areas of construction, if there's things we can do in parallel, if there's things we can do quicker, that's what we're investigating right now."

Five months after that alarming sinkhole, there is still no sign of any conclusive reports about what caused it — or who's to blame. Lauch said he expects the report to be released "imminently." Mayor Jim Watson has said the report should be released before the end of the year.

It's unclear what is holding up the report, although Lauch said both sides are still "investigating" and "collecting data."

In 2014, tunnelling through an old construction pit caused an eight-metre side sinkhole on Waller Street. The report detailing that incident was released to the public within about a month.


Joanne Chianello

City affairs analyst

Joanne Chianello is an award-winning journalist and CBC Ottawa's city affairs analyst. You can email her at or tweet her at @jchianello.