Barrhaven, Riverside South councillors make peace with new LRT plan
Original LRT plan better served fast-growing communities, councillors say
The city councillors for Ottawa's fast-growing southern suburbs support the design for the big second stage of light rail, even if they admit their communities would have been best served by a LRT plan killed over a decade ago.
If full council gives its approval next week, city staff plan to ask contractors this spring to bid for billions of dollars worth of construction.
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Under then-mayor Larry O'Brien, an incoming city council voted in December 2006 to cancel the $778 million contract with Siemens-PCL/Dufferin to send rail south, which led the city to later pay a $37 million settlement.
A decade later, Riverside South can now anticipate seeing the O-Train arrive in 2021, only it will run on the existing diesel system, not electricity.
However, a diesel train can't negotiate the curves along the corridor in Riverside South set aside years ago for the electric train, and would require the city to build costly under- or overpasses.
Staff say the city can't afford to electrify the Trillium line during Stage 2 — that would add anywhere from $300 million to $1 billion onto the $535 million cost of the southern expansion.
So, instead of the O-Train serving the neighbourhood directly and travelling on to Barrhaven as in the old plan, the end of the rail line in 2021 will be in a rural field a few kilometres to the east of Riverside South on Bowesville Road. The plan is to build a huge park-and-ride lot there that could eventually accommodate 3,100 vehicles.
"We had a good plan, and it got cancelled, and as a result we're having to do these half measures and stop-gap projects in order to accommodate people to use public transit," said Bruce Lindsay, president of the Riverside South Community Association, who acknowledged the station at Bowesville should alleviate congestion for commuters.
Bowesville station the affordable option, for now
The original north-south route was ideal, agrees Michael Qaqish, councillor for Gloucester-South Nepean, who was not on council in 2006.
Qaqish thinks the Stage 2 design and procurement plans that go before the present-day council on March 8 are affordable and serve his community well enough, without waiting decades for another light rail plan.
Residents of Findlay Creek — Ottawa's second-fastest growing neighbourhood according to the recent census — will be able to drive to an expanded park-and-ride at a light rail station at Leitrim Road.
The southern terminus at Bowesville, an endpoint that was decided a few years ago, will be served by OC Transpo buses shuttling commuters from Riverside South and will suit residents who live even further south, he added.
"I've had several conversations with staff about this and they're very confident and optimistic about the ridership we'll see there," said Qaqish of the Bowesville station.
Barrhaven councillor looks north, not east, for rail tie-in
Meanwhile, Barrhaven is not anticipated to see rail transit for years, which leaves Chapman Mills Drive with land dedicated to tracks that have yet to materialize, said longtime councillor Jan Harder.
"You do have to move on. You can feel badly for yourself, but what's the point? It's not going to change that decision that was made and the direction council went in," said Harder, who voted against cancelling north-south light rail in the tight 13-11 vote in 2006.
These days, she's focused on getting her residents onto light rail sooner rather than later, but not eastward over the Strandherd-Armstrong bridge, as was once envisioned.
Instead, she says the most realistic route would see residents connecting to the light rail system to the north, at the future Baseline station at Centrepointe, beside Algonquin College.
Harder wants a dedicated Transitway the entire way from Baseline to Barrhaven — there is currently a short stretch where buses travel on Woodroffe Avenue — and she has a motion going before city council on March 8 asking that it consider converting the Transitway from buses to rail as early as feasible.
She stresses she's not trying to jump the queue for projects, just asking to speed up studies, as her colleagues did for Orléans and Kanata.
"Let's get it ready and when opportunity knocks, and we have the right formula in place, we can make the decisions we need," said Harder.
Staff from the City of Ottawa will hold a public information session on Stage 2 of the light rail project at Ottawa city hall on March 1, from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.