Sparks Street tunnel preferred route for Gatineau tram

A tunnel under Sparks Street is the preferred route for Gatineau's planned electric tram into downtown Ottawa, but there's still no figure for what it would all cost. 

Ottawa councillors worry Gatineau's options include 'deal breakers'

According to the results of a recent survey by the Société de transport de l'Outaouais, a tunnel beneath Sparks Street is the preferred option for a future tram connecting Gatineau with downtown Ottawa. (Michel Aspirot/Radio-Canada)

A tunnel under Sparks Street is the preferred route for Gatineau's planned electric tram into downtown Ottawa, but there's still no figure for what it would all cost. 

More than 1,500 residents of Gatineau and Ottawa responded to a survey by the Société de transport de l'Outaouais (STO), and 60 per cent said they preferred a Sparks Street tunnel over the other option: above-ground trams on Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill.

Both options would use the Portage Bridge to carry transit riders between the two provinces.

Councillors in Ottawa agreed during a transportation committee update Wednesday that the cities need to be better connected by transit and that a 1.2-kilometre tunnel under Sparks Street was best.

That said, some seemed wary of how complicated or costly STO's shortlist of options might prove to be.

The proposed route for the tram tunnel beneath Sparks Street, including the location of its two stations. (Société de transport de l'Outaouais)

Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper worried some of the issues with the Wellington route would be "deal breakers," with the "stickiest" point being talks with the federal government to use fringes of the parliamentary precinct.

Any tram on Wellington Street would need two stations and would require federal land on the north side of Wellington Street around the Supreme Court of Canada.

It would also affect the current eight entrances to the precinct.

No costs for Ottawa

While the tunnel could allay some of those concerns, the STO acknowledges it will also be the more expensive choice.

"We're having this conversation about what this all looks like right now, but if one of the options that is on the table might not be feasible due to cost, then that's not really an option at all," said Innes ward Coun. Laura Dudas.

A representation of the proposed tramway running along chemin d'Aylmer in Gatineau. (Supplied)

The STO will now refine its plans and figure out more precise costs, with the next update to Ottawa councillors coming in November.

The province of Quebec has agreed to cover 60 per cent of the project, STO chair Myriam Nadeau told reporters, and the hope is the federal government would pay the rest.

"We're not looking at the City of Ottawa paying for this project," Nadeau said.

If the money were not to come through, buses would continue to ply already overcrowded roads, she noted, even as sectors such as Aylmer continue to boom.

Councillor has questions

Ottawa city staff haven't yet recommended a position to council, given the number of questions about STO's plan.

Councillors did say they'd like to see staff underscore priorities like getting buses off downtown streets and linking STO's stations to Ottawa's LRT stations. 

Orléans Coun. Matthew Luloff questioned the entire plan, however, saying he'd have preferred Gatineau to link into Ottawa's LRT system further west, at Bayview station.

"We've invested so much in a great transit system ... that to layer a second, separate transit system on top of it is quite redundant," said Luloff.

Connecting the tram at Bayview over the Prince of Wales rail bridge was rejected at an earlier stage because, as Nadeau and city staff explained in May, Bayview couldn't handle all those extra riders from Gatineau.


Kate Porter


Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa. Over the past two decades, she has also produced in-depth reports for radio, web and TV, regularly presented the radio news, and covered the arts beat.

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