About those Barrhaven underpasses …

SO, the City is considering five separate road underpasses or overpasses in the area where Woodroffe makes it out to Barrhaven. Initial costs are $430 million dollars. An admittedly very preliminary guesstimate. Not including the cost of construction detours, moving water works, acquiring land, etc etc. Inflation anyone?

Politicians want these so that they look like they are responding to a high profile bus-train crash. Consultants want these because their fees will be at least 10% of the total, or $43-50 million. Construction firms are delighted as they envision the money floating down on parachutes from the great Liberal Infrastructure cargo helicopter hovering up above.

Underpasses might look similar to this one, on Greenbank Road:

Notice the huge land acquisition. The 21′ clearance required above cyclists and pedestrians as they go under the bridge. The huge snow dump boulevards to the sides. The lack of access to adjacent properties and subsequent tax penalty. Imagine the speed those cars can get up to on such a wide, straight freeway. Nirvana.

Unmentioned is the ongoing maintenance costs (assume 100% of the capital costs every 40 years) paid out of local taxes, not T2’s pocket.

Would that $430 million save more lives if spent on other projects? ** Does the report compare the Barrhaven grade separations against other life-saving projects?

Does evidence matter or does emotion rule?

Is there a cheaper alternative?

Well, actually, now that you ask, there is.

Those roads approach the railway tracks at an angle, not 90 degrees.

Imagine if each road was slightly modified to that it approached the tracks at right angles. That modification isn’t put a thousand feet out, with a huge gentle curve that permits   encourages    mandates that cars travel at high speed. Instead, it’s a bit of a turn. It encourages drivers, all drivers, to pay attention to the road. (If vehicles don’t make it, they end up in a field. Safe.)

As they approach the tracks, the two lanes in each direction widen to be three, or maybe four lanes.

More lanes, but narrower. Maybe 9′ wide, instead of 14′.

And put hefty concrete walls between the lanes, about 4′ high. Motorists will slow down, especially the cautious ones. Their behaviour will force the following motorists to also slow down.

As the vehicles approach the tracks, there is a stop line with traffic signals and a gate. Not a flimsy break-off gate, but a steel one that will scratch and dent your precious car. The gate comes down when a train approaches (twenty-six times a day?). Maybe it could come down at random signal times too, just like low traffic signalized intersections also periodically cycle through red lights just to keep motorists aware there are signals, etc.

Does this construction sound outrageous?

It shouldn’t. It’s a perfectly standard old-fashioned toll booth plaza found on high speed highways all over the world.

In fact, while we are building these sluice gates, these chicanes, these race-horse starting gates, these toll-booth lanes, why not put a basket in too and charge each motorist 25 cents, to pay for the road improvement. After all, they don’t have to use these roads. There are alternatives.


WWCS? What will Councillors say?

It’s a new idea, mustn’t do that. Or maybe, let’s look at it, hire those same consultants to examine the scheme, of course they won’t be biased by the threat of losing $45 million of fees. Or maybe, send it to city staff, who can invent hundreds of ridiculously high expenses and what-if’s that will price this out of reach.

WWCD? What will Councillors do? My bet is “go with the flow”, don’t rock the boat, just ask T2 for the money …


** About the cross-product justification for the grade separation. Unlike Ottawa, most cities have industries. Unlike in Ottawa, most trains are long freight trains, that block flat intersections for lengthy times, sometimes at rush hour, and then a deluge or pulse of traffic overwhelms the next traffic signal, chaos ensues, etc etc.

The measure of annoyance for a separation is No of Road Vehicles/Day x No of Trains/Day. (This is an annoyance index, not a “need” or “safety” index). The cross product standard of 200,000/day suggests maybe a grade separation should be examined (not, “is required”).  The Woodrooffe Road / VIA cross product is 518,000.

However, notice that the Woodroffe / Hunt Club intersection, and the Woodroffe / Baseline intersections, which are also the scenes of (fatal?) accidents being in the city’s top 10 most-collision-prone,  have a cross product of about 900,000. Each. Why aren’t we saving more lives by grade separating those intersections instead? Isn’t the object of this exercise to “save lives?”

And note that VIA trains are moving slowly in Barrhaven, because of the station there. In Calgary there are light rail crossings of busy roads which have dozens of trains per day so the cross-products there would easily blow Woodroffe out of the water. Calgary uses traffic lights for the crossings. No chicanes or concrete toll plazas required. And like intersections everywhere, sometimes there are accidents  collisions. And fatalities. Yet we live on, largely accepting them.

No need for a Vision Zero program, says our mayor. But a billion dollars of grade separations, bring ’em on. Drivers in Barrhaven shall rejoice.


11 thoughts on “About those Barrhaven underpasses …

  1. Gee…I was wondering when and where the idea of tolls on exisiting roads would resurface. I did not have to wait long.

    However, I do like your idea of making the approach to railway crossings have tight curves or other obstacles that “naturally” reduces the speed drivers feel safe driving; and, stonger gates that do serious damage to vehicles that defy them.

    While cars are important to the non-walkables in this city, so are slower but continously moving traffic speeds for everyone’s safety, not just those incased in steel with convenient airbags protecting them from all conceivable angles just in case there is a collision.

  2. Several comments. Sadly Barrhaven was not supposed to ever have been built so big, because it lies at end of the main EW runway. So roads were not laid out properly to minimize rail crossings. Also from 80’s to 2000, slow VIA passenger trains were on decline. (3 pairs a day).

    However now there are at least double the number of faster trains and some Montreal trains now terminate at Fallowfield. Plans are for a VIA Toronto train pair an hour in the future.

    Sadly the Woodroffe and Transitway underpass was not built a decade ago because the soil is so saturated with flowing water. And an overpass would have caused too much (?) road noise to the then planned subdivisions.

    A comedy of errors that will cost taxpayers all across the City a lot of money.

  3. This study arose from a tragic event involving an OC Transpo bus and a Via Rail train, on the transitway. The incident did not happen on a public roadway. It is my understanding that the conclusion as to why this event occurred ruled out a failure of the crossing lights and gates to engage, and it ruled out a failure of the brakes on the bus. In short, this was an isolated incident that all indicators point to a failure of the OC Transpo driver to come to a stop at the rail crossing.

    The lowest cost solution is the one followed by all school buses in Ontario, which must come to a full stop at all level crossings, irrespective of whether the red lights are flashing and the gate has dropped.

    Will this add to the time it takes to get from the outer ‘burbs to downtown? Yes. Will it add to the safety of the passengers? Yes. Could it be invoked with no additional capital cost? Yes. Was this solution proposed to city council in the days after the tragic incident? Yes. Was it dismissed immediately, without further study by Mayor Watson? Yes.

    1. Human error is human error… so even under the stop-for-a-railway-crossing rule the driver could still have blown through via inattention. Let’s not forget that the driver failed to stop at a known crossing with lights flashing and a lowering gate.

      In a sense, what we’ve got here is a variant on a street calming problem: drivers get “velocitized” and begin to pay attention only to what is immediately in front of them (“tunnel vision”) and not their overall situation. In countless neighbourhoods the same idiotic solution to drivers driving too fast is proposed and implemented: putting up stop signs. We know it doesn’t really work, but it’s cheap and easy.

      The chicane solution has a far different effect: it forces a slow down (but not a stop) by design, in the same way that street narrowing has a traffic calming effect. If every car and bus has to go through a narrowing on approach to a railway crossing, they will slow down. And having been slowed down, their attention can now be better focused on the crossing signals plus they will be travelling at a slower speed with a shorter stopping time and distance should the signals activate.

      We have precedence for this design solution besides that of toll plazas: someone designed the multiuser path crossing on the other side of Woodroffe to employ a chicane. Since the target for this is unlikely to be pedestrians as they can walk through, it can only be surmised that it was directed against another class of vehicle operator: cyclists. So if we’re prepared to treat cyclists this way, why not car and bus drivers?

    2. Buses is really not the issue its private cars the amount of people that try and outrun the train is unreal.

      1. It’s the bus driver who crashed through the gate on the Woodroffe transiway that killed passengers, one of whom was the son of my friend. Not cars.

  4. Agree with the rational approach of seeking solutions other than very expensive and space wasting underpasses. Yes, various Canadian cities have opted for a number of on grade solutions to the rail/road crossing challenge. We have not tried this here. Since all others above have listed various sane approaches (there IS a responsibility with drivers as well), I will not add but to say that I fully support some novel on-grade solution. Waste of funds for grossly overdesigned civil infrastructure should be council’s main concern.

  5. Looking at the report the Woodroffe/Transitway overpass is $145 million but they have also estimated the Jockvale underpass at $80 million ($27 million more than the recently completed Greenbank underpass!). so I think these numbers are very much ballpark numbers. One thing I did note is that for the temporary construction bypass road they envisioned a 6 lane road making a wide sweeping turn through the experimental farm so that cars and buses could continue to zoom along at 90km/hr. Designing to that speed probably increases the cost of the temporary road quite significantly.

    There is quite a bit of sticker shock with that headline number but it is very comparable to how much it cost to twin highway 7 from the 417 to Carleton Place, which also was done in the name of safety. I personally think the Woodroffe/Transitway and Fallowfield overpasses should be done as it also grade separates the transitway but that the Jockvale and Merivale underpasses should only be done as part of an effort to put a highspeed train link between Ottawa and Toronto.

  6. What about dropping a flimsy gate quickly, and once it is in place without being displaced by a vehicle then pop up those steel cylinders they use in Europe to turn streets into non-vehicle areas. You can keep going if you want but you’re never going to reach the train. You’ll just impact on the barrier and stop cold.

    Also, I wouldn’t bet against Elon Musk. If he’s done the math and determined that Hyperloop is likely to be almost an order of magnitude cheaper than high–speed passenger rail, and considerably faster, then the prudent course would be to put off any major investments for 4-5 years until his analysis is either shown to be infeasible, or not.

    1. “…Hyperloop…the prudent course would be to put off any major investments for 4-5 years…”

      PRT. SST. Monorail.

  7. Blaming car drivers for something that a bus driver did. Not so good. Why don’t we prohibit any vehicles from being present on all the roads. Maybe we could prevent all accidents this way. ( I hope most people are getting my sarcasm ). No matter what we built there will always have risks involved. We have to learn and try our best to avoid unfortunate events such as the loss of lives that happened, but we also have to live our lives without constantly have more restrictions put on all of us, including more tax to pay to make people feel safer when in fact it is not. Humans are humans and errors will be made.

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