Gatineau wants to run light rail over Portage Bridge

The City of Gatineau wants to connect its future light-rail transit system to the Confederation Line using an "urban tram" over the Portage Bridge, but it doesn't yet have any committed funds from either the provincial or federal governments.

STO doesn't have funds committed yet, however

Gatineau's 26-kilometre, $2.1-billion light rail network is scheduled to be in operation by 2028, and part of it could connect to Ottawa's Lyon LRT station by running across the Portage Bridge. (Supplied)

The City of Gatineau wants to connect its future light-rail transit system to the Confederation Line using an "urban tram" over the Portage Bridge, but it doesn't yet have any committed funds from either the provincial or federal governments.

The Société de transport de l'Outaouais (STO) has been working on a rapid transit system for years. Back in 2018, Gatineau officials unveiled an ambitious vision for a 26-kilometre, $2.1-billion light rail line that would bring residents from  the growing Aylmer and Plateau areas to downtown by 2028, as well as connect with Ottawa's LRT.

On Friday, STO officials provided a technical briefing to Ottawa city councillors, where they revealed that Gatineau riders overwhelmingly preferred an "all-tram" solution to rapid transit, as opposed to one that would rely more on buses.

Those electric trams would travel in both directions over the Portage Bridge, connecting with the Lyon LRT station. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, about 3,500 bus riders would cross the Portage Bridge every hour during peak periods, and Gatineau expects that to more than double to 7,500 over the next 15 years.

The tramway plan would still require a number of STO connector buses to run on Slater and Albert streets, but the volume of buses should be drastically reduced from pre-pandemic levels.

Gatineau is proposing to run a double-tracked tramway on the Portage Bridge to connect with Ottawa's LRT. (Provided by STO)

Coun. Myriam Nadeau, who chairs the STO's board of directors, told Ottawa officials that Gatineau residents also wanted the trams to continue past Lyon station.

To that end, STO is looking at whether there might be an opportunity to run trams either along Wellington Street or in a tunnel under Sparks Street — proposals that come with a number of challenges, including additional costs.

No committed funding

The City of Gatineau is looking for the Quebec government to pay 60 per cent of the multi-billion-dollar project, while the federal government would pick up the rest of the tab.

(The $2.1-billion estimate, which was very preliminary, is for the entire light-rail system. STO officials did not provide an estimate for the part of the project that connects to Ottawa.)

While funds have not been formally committed by either level of government, Nadeau said the project is on the province's "priority" list. Gatineau has also submitted a formal request for infrastructure funds from the federal government, but it's not clear when or if that money will be committed.

Ottawa city staff are reviewing Gatineau's transit analysis, and councillors heard that no decisions will be made until the public on both sides of the river are consulted, which is expected to occur next month.

The issue will ultimately come to the transportation committee and council for final approval.

Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said last fall that plans to run rail over the Prince of Wales Bridge, which Ottawa owns, were dead. Instead, the mayors want to see converted into a pedestrian and cyclist access. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Bayview station off the table

STO had looked at connecting over the Champlain or Prince of Wales bridges, but they were considered too far west, as about 80 per cent of Gatineau transit passengers head to and from downtown.

As well, councillors heard Friday that the Bayview station — located at the intersection of the Confederation and Trillium lines, at the south end of the Prince of Wales Bridge — does not have the capacity for an influx of thousands of passengers because it would require the city buy up to 12 additional trains.

Pat Scrimgeour, OC Transpo's director of systems and planning, told councillors that connecting Gatineau's rail to Lyon station would allow it to "bypass" the busiest part of the Confederation Line between Bayview and Lyon.

It would also give Ottawa riders a better connection to federal government jobs in Gatineau, he said.

The city of Ottawa bought the Prince of Wales Bridge for $400,000 from Canadian Pacific Railway about 15 years ago for the express purpose of running trains across it one day, and that's still in the city's current Transportation Master Plan. 

But last fall, the mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau announced that plans for rail over the bridge were off. 

"It would congest too much Bayview station, and secondly, Gatineau has been pursuing their LRT project and they too have ruled it out as a bridge that would be used for transit," Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said last September. 

Both Watson and Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin are hoping to use the bridge instead as a pedestrian and bike crossing.

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