Road projects unfinished as city updates to-do list
Cycling, transit projects have been accelerated while roadwork falls behind
The City of Ottawa is preparing to draft a new master plan for its roads, rail lines and pathways, even though half the road projects on its last to-do list remain undone.
In 2013, city council approved a short list of 13 new roads with a total price tag of $240 million, to be completed by 2019. Many more were on a long list of projects to be completed by 2031, all part of the city's transportation master plan.
But the city has fallen behind.
Only five of the 13 projects on the short list have been finished. Others, such as widening the Airport Parkway, realigning Greenbank Road in Barrhaven and building a major new arterial road for Stittsville remain in the queue.
"Money isn't coming in as fast as had been anticipated, and some roads are costing more than they were supposed to," said Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais, who chairs the city's transportation committee and represents rapidly growing sections of Orléans.
Building new roads and widening existing ones is predominantly paid for through development charges, which have fallen short in recent years. The city expects its revamped fee structure, approved recently, will help fill that gap.
Suburbs feeling the squeeze
Residents of Ottawa's booming suburbs have complained about not getting the infrastructure they were promised when they bought their homes.
In Barrhaven, Half Moon Bay residents will have to endure repairs to a bridge on Greenbank Road that were put off because it was never expected to be used so heavily, for so long.
In Stittsville, Coun. Glen Gower's focus is a half-built arterial road, Robert Grant Avenue.
Gower said the road, complete with bus lane and multi-use paths, has been talked about since the 1990s, but has now been left out of the city's plans until after 2031.
In that time, Stittsville is set to grow by nearly 10,000 homes.
"To think that we won't have this major transportation infrastructure built before then makes absolutely no sense," Gower said.
Without it, nearby streets must absorb more traffic and businesses on Stittsville Main Street suffer because their thoroughfare is being used like a highway, he said.
"I can totally understand the frustration we're hearing from residents in terms of the difficulty in getting around the community," Gower said.
The city begins a three-year process of updating its transportation plan Wednesday, so Gower will soon have to jostle with other councillors to get his project higher on the next priority list.
Transit, cycling projects ahead of schedule
One of the main priorities of the city's master plan, however, has been to get people out of their cars. So while road projects have fallen behind, the city sped up transit and cycling projects, and allotted more money to them.
Since 2013, the city has handed out contracts to extend Stage 2 light rail more quickly than first planned, and the price tag has grown to nearly $4.7 billion.
Upper levels of government also gave extra funding for cycling — Ottawa will soon have spent $80 million on bike infrastructure since 2013.
Meanwhile, the Ontario government has announced it will not double gas tax funds, which Ottawa counts on to build transit and cycling infrastructure, and is changing the way cities collect development charges, the major source of funding for municipal roads.
"All of that plays a role in what we can afford to do and how fast we can afford to do it all," Blais said.