Ottawa

Sparks Street tunnel for Gatineau LRT gets committee's OK

Ottawa city council's transportation committee has approved a plan to allow Gatineau to connect its future light rail system to the Confederation Line through a tunnel under Sparks Street, but left the door open to running rail in front of Parliament Hill on Wellington Street.

Councillors leave door open for rail on Wellington Street if tunnel plan falls through

Gatineau's plan for a rapid transit system could cost as much as $3.5 billion, and would dramatically cut the number of STO buses on Ottawa streets during peak hours. (Supplied)

Ottawa city council's transportation committee has approved a plan to allow Gatineau to connect its future light rail system to the Confederation Line through a tunnel under Sparks Street, but left the door open to running rail in front of Parliament Hill on Wellington Street.

The Société de transport de l'Outaouais (STO) has plans for a rapid transit system to bring residents from the growing Aylmer and Plateau areas to its downtown by 2028, as well as connect with Ottawa's LRT. Earlier this year, STO confirmed it wanted to bring its electric trams over the Ottawa River using the Portage Bridge.

STO presented Ottawa with two options once the trams arrive on this side of the river: through a tunnel running under Sparks Street, or along the north side of Wellington Street, alongside existing traffic. In both instances, the STO trams would stop at a dead end or transit "stub" near Elgin Street, then return west toward Gatineau.

Ottawa's transportation committee approved STO's request to run trams on the north side of Wellington Street should funding for the much more expensive tunnel under Sparks Street fail to materialize. (Société de transport de l'Outaouais)

On Monday, the transportation committee approved the Sparks Street tunnel as its preferred option as it presents fewer  disruptions.

However, councillors heard for the first time that the tunnel would cost $500 million more than the Wellington option. Given the additional expense, the committee also approved the Wellington Street option "should the funding for the Sparks Street tunnel not materialize."

Interest in 'the Loop' 

Much of Monday's committee meeting was spent discussing the concept of a rail loop that would connect the downtowns of Ottawa and Gatineau, running along Wellington Street and Sussex Drive on the Ottawa side, and connecting to Quebec via the Portage and Alexandra bridges, the latter undergoing major reconstruction.

A group of architects, politicians and business leaders have been asking for a tramway rail that would connect the downtown cores on both sides of the Ottawa River. Why they say now is the right time to do it. 8:46

The Loop, as it's being called by its supporters, grew out of a call from local economist, writer and former National Capital Commission board member Bob Plamondon for Wellington Street to be turned into a pedestrian mall. Now, a group is advocating for a rail loop to be part of STO's light rail plan, too.

"Now is the time to do this as one project rather than to do it piecemeal," Plamondon told committee members Monday. 

The Loop is not currently part of the light rail plan being proposed by STO. Instead, the committee passed a motion asking the federal government to fund a study on the feasibility of a transit loop and turning Wellington Street into a pedestrian mall.

In an email to CBC, Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna said she supported the idea of a rail loop.

"We need to look at transit between Ottawa and Gatineau as a whole as people live, work and play on both sides of the Ottawa River," she wrote.

Responding to the motion city motion, she added, "I know the NCC [National Capital Commission] is in the midst of conducting a study on the future of interprovincial crossings and I'm confident that they will include the proposal for a loop as part of those considerations."

Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pednaud-Jobin says he's had encouraging discussions with the federal government about funding for the rapid transit project, but he wants something more 'concrete.' The Quebec government committed money to the project last year. (CBC)

For its part, the federal government has not yet committed any funds to STO's light rail plan.

"We've had discussions with the federal government, we've had enthusiasm … but we have to get beyond words as soon as possible because we're investing a lot of time of energy," Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin told reporters after the meeting. "But the federal government is still not putting anything concrete on the table."

With files from Amanda Pfeffer

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