I am constantly amazed at what I hear about light rail planning in the City.
I have to conclude it doesn’t matter what happens, people will simple reinterpret it (twist it) to fit their own preconceived agenda. It is part of the hyper-partisan-ization of our society that I find distressing.
There was a SW transit plan under Mayor Chiarelli. It ran on street surface in the downtown, accross the Flats and Dalhousie neighborhoods, and turned south at Bayswater, ran along the OTrain line, managed to miss the airport, to Riverside, to the new Strandherd Bridge over the Rideau and thence into Barrhaven where it ended.
The plan had a number of merits. It put transit into a rapidly growing area at the same time as the population moved in, which meant people could get used to transit from day 1, and the street plan could be shaped to feed to it. It serviced a lot of underused lands en route to Riverside. It did not go to Kanata or Orleans, because those areas already had the transitway. It was to cost well less than a billion dollars.
Voters turned it down. Some because it was too expensive. Some because it wasn’t expensive enough: they wanted a tunnel. Others wanted it to go East-West first, even though most of the new LRT would simply replace existing BRT. Thus was born an unwiedly coalition of nay-sayers who voted to delay the SW – LRT til a later point in building out the LRT transit system.
After the election, the east-west route took priority. To appease those who did not want surface rail in the downtown, it was put in a tunnel. Even if the LRT could run on the surface for a while, it wasn’t a good long term solution, which the tunnel is. Those who claimed the SW – LRT was too expensive gladly voted for the more expensive tunnel version. Converting the BRT transitway to LRT was seen as progressive, even if it didn’t give a huge boost to ridership. From a strategic point of view, these Council decisions are defensible.
Along comes the recession and government stimulus money. Stimulus money isn’t to be spent far in the future if it is to stimulate us out of a recession, it needs to be spent soon (unless you are US Congress which will announce the majority of their stimulus money next June, before their re-election, and well after the recession is over). The stimulus in Canada requires municipalities to accelerate or bring foreward planned projects so that they can be implemented sooner than otherwise planned and stimulate the economy. This means projects that are already in the planning pipeline. They are not to be the projects the City planned to build this year anyway – that wouldn’t be a stimulus, it would just replace municipal money with federal money. Ottawa has two transit plans with environmental approvals: the E-W LRT from Blair to Tunney’s, and the SW – LRT from Bayview south.
The City is suggesting it could build the segment from Bayview to Riverside immediately. This is NOT the old SW plan that included the street surface tracks in the downtown. It does not include the link to Barrhaven. It builds on elements from the old SW plan, which Council has previously decided needs to be built someday, and offers it up for immediate funding. This is smart politics. If other levels of government are waving money around, rejiggle City transit projects timelines around a bit to take advantage of the free – or at least cheap – money.
Let’s not forget other elements of the transit route nirvana. The NCC, Gatineau, and Ottawa are examining a better linkage of interprovincial transit. The most logical first-phase outcome, in my opinion, would be a LRT service from Rideau through the new tunnel to Bayview Station and thence north accross the Prince Of Wales Bridge to Gatineau. Say goodbye to most of those blue buses in downtown Ottawa, and hello to a busier LRT system. The converted OTrain alignment looks pretty prescient in this case.
Take a valium Ottawa, the unfolding LRT plans are not to everyone’s liking, never will be. But they are certainly not a disaster.
[Note that the extension of the LRT from Tunney’s west to Lincoln Fields is not eligible for short-term stimulus money because the route hasn’t been decided on yet. There is still lots of consultation and hand-wringing to do].