The City will shortly be considering some revisions to the downtown LRT project. The mainstream media focussed on the Rideau Station, which has been moved slightly east (main entrance no longer under the food court, but under the now-vacant lot immediately east of the Rideau Centre). But what are the changes that will affect us west siders?
First, the portal. That’s where the surface track running across LeBreton Flats goes into the cliff face near the Juliana apartment building on Bronson, and then continues under the downtown along Queen Street.
Previous plans had the tracks enter the cliff face in a typical train-tunnel entrance. The NCC had aesthetic concerns with how this would look, and how it might affect the overall escarpment look and feel. It also necessitated elevating Commissioner Street (if it was to be left in place) and the cycling and pedestrian paths. I previously expressed concerns that these paths were becoming complex, expensive, and unattractive to users.
In the revised plan, the trains leaving LeBreton Station (at Booth Street) will travel downwards and enter their tunnel a few hundred feet before the cliff face. Commissioner Street can remain roughly as it is now, and pedestrian and cyclist access to the LeBreton condos and downtown will be direct and enhanced. Transit-oriented development objectives will be met instead of thwarted.
Coincidentally, the City owned development sites immediately south of the new alignment (currently surface parking lots between Brickhill and Commissioner/Bronson) will be better placed for building the 22 storey highrises called for in the approved Escarpment Plan. There will once again be the potential for ground level access from these sites over the top of the tracks to the aqueduct parkland spine. All this is good.
Over at Bayview, the City is confirming the Station will be located on the Bridge over the O-Train Station. This station location is convenient for transferring between the N-S O-train and the E-W LRT lines. It is also well located to serve the proposed terminus of the STO Rapibus (their transitway) when it comes over the Prince of Wales Bridge. The location does not prevent extending the O-train (or its successor LRT service) from going north to Gatineau or swinging it around to join the eastbound line to the downtown.
Back in December, I previewed the Bayview Station design, which you can see at this link: http://westsideaction.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/bayview-station-final/. Personally, I don’t think this station is nailed down firmly yet. Expect more changes, especially to the community access to the Stations:
Not mentioned in the update going to council is the LeBreton Station or the “detour” routes all the buses will have to take when the transitway is closed down. Nonetheless, expect some changes:
Bus Detours: The City has been considering how to get the buses from Tunney’s to the downtown. Tunney’s is the region’s second largest employment node. Recently, they were proposing to widen Albert Street between Bayview and Empress (the Good Companions site, where the transitway joins Albert/Slater and both those streets have bus-only lanes into the downtown). The widening would be from four traffic lanes to six. But then, in 2018, when the LRT is up and running, they would convert the two outside bus-only lanes into a fancy bike boulevard. I was prepared to consider this option, provided there could be some guarantees that the lanes wouldn’t simply be handed over to Gatineau commuters.
However, no matter how wide Albert is, there is still a major gridlock in the bottleneck between Preston and Booth. So they have resurrected the Preston Extension option, which was previously discarded several years ago. Recall that Preston currently ends at a T-intersection with Albert. But pedestrians and cyclists continue north, and cross the transitway (for now…). Long term official plans have Preston extending north, and using an overpass over the transitway/LRT line, ending up at the already-in-place intersection at Vimy and Ottawa River Commuter Expressway. This missing road link might be back on the drawing boards as a first element to construct.
LeBreton Station, you will recall, is in a bit of a hole, down by the aqueduct. Somehow, the builders have to build a LRT station there, and a new bridge that takes Booth over the top of the station and over the aqueduct. And, until now, the city insisted this could be done while keeping Booth open to daily commuter traffic and pedestrians. And not filling in the historic aqueduct. Even if they pressed the old Broad Street alignment into service, this was a tall order. Extending Preston over the Flats to Vimy allows them to simply close Booth for three or more years during construction.
Once Booth is closed, there is no more bottleneck of traffic going from Preston to Booth along Albert. Ergo, reduced need to widen Albert…
Also in the City’s revised LRT plans are revisions to the Train Station design. I seldom comment on that Station since it isn’t on the west side, but until recently it was very awkwardly and expensively situated under the motor car approaches to the Train Station. Now it is moved west:
The revised location might well be cheaper to construct. It also meets other, unmentioned criteria. VIA has a surface parking lot immediately west of the station. This now becomes a rather attractive development site. And there is better potential to link the OLRT station via a ped link to the new VIA office development and then extend that further south, under/over the VIA tracks, to the office building and shopping complex in the Train Yards area (VIA won’t countenance using the existing ped tunnels under the tracks that are inside the Train Station, or extending them southwards).
Bigger Pie for Contractors: The current City plans call for a single contractor, to be selected in Dec 2012, to finalize the LRT design plans, build it, and operate it. They collect their money back from the City over time. Under a done-deal agreement with the Province, the same contractor will now be the project manager for the widening of Hwy 417 (The Queensway). This is portrayed as being administratively convenient. Hmm. Is that all??
It also makes the winning prize much much larger to the proponents. And it puts Mayor Watson is a better seat to negotiate for more from the contractor. I’m thinking of the western extension of the LRT, of course. The current first-phase line is severely handicapped by terminating at Tunney’s. It should run at least to Lincoln Fields, maybe even Algonquin, right from Day One.
The problem with the western extension was it needed a route selection and lengthy environmental review. This could have delayed the whole LRT project, so the City severed it into two phases. The Western extension study is well behind its reporting dates, because it is going into more detail. Rather than discuss route options in the abstract, in terms of values and urban planning wishes, it will have detailed costing for each option (Richmond vs Carling).
I make no secret of my preference for the Westboro-RochesterField/Richmond-Woodroofe alignment. It is direct and likely to be much cheaper than Carling.
Just as Watson has negotiated a deal with the first phase proponents to design-build-operate the downtown LRT, with the developer providing the capital and collecting its payment over time (with interest, of course…), I fully expect him to propose that the winning proponent will also design-build-operate & finance the western extension, without obvious Fed or Prov aid up front. There are significant economies of scale to achieved, and the bills won’t come due until long after Watson has cut the ribbon in 2017 and retired to nice board appointments.