Let’s shake the planning etch-a-sketch by building that LRT out to Orleans right now.
And charging them for it.
The Sinkhole Incident on Hwy 174 has high lighted the lack of access to the former St Joseph d’Orleans.
And its not just the lack of road access, it’s the lack of alternatives.
If the sink hole happened on the road to Kanata, there are more alternative routes. The higher road capacity pushes off the breakeven point for extending LRT to Kanata. And remember, the nearest point of Kanata is further away than the farthest point in Orleans*.
In this road shortage situation, Orleans might be blessed. Because out of adversity comes advantage.
It is expensive to build more roads to Orleans, but I’ll bet all the politicians will be promising more roads. What they should do is provide more transportation choices, such as extending the LRT out to Orleans.
After all, the purpose of transportation is move people, not automobiles. We have to get out of our minds the common assumption that people are normally in cars.
Why? Well, that road that begins in Orleans ends in Ottawa. Which means more traffic at our schools, universities, offices, and on the city streets. Much better to move the people rather than their cars. I’ll welcome the Orleanais in Ottawa but not their tin boxes.
But won’t extending the LRT be too expensive?
Well, it certainly costs money, but what about the alternatives? Like the cost of widening all those roads and intersections, both out there and in the city. Oops, sorry, our media and public discourse doesn’t headline those costs, only the transit ones. And we don’t calculate the “cost recovery or revenue” for roads (perhaps because it is so low), but only for transit.***
So part of the problem is how we perceive the cost.
The second part is the low density of Orleans, and the longish-haul out to there and back, with no revenue between Montreal Road and Jeanne D’Arc. So the conventional planning wisdom says its not cost effective to run the LRT out there. Our transit boffins say it will be 30 years or more before the LRT extends to Orleans, if ever.
So let’s shake our planning etch-a-sketch and start anew.
The LRT to Orleans has little competition, there being but one primary road out there, the 174, which conveniently is owned and operated by the same provider as the LRT (the city). So we don’t have to worry about someone (like the province) stepping in and providing a competing transportation facility.
To be blunt, the city can force encourage people into transit by not providing more roads. That’s pretty much how we forced encouraged everyone onto roads in the years past (by building roads and starving pedestrians of sidewalks, transit users of transit, etc). New modes take off by government coercion and subsidy, as well as their competitive advantage.
The distance from Blair Station (east end of the current OLRT project) to Place d’Orleans is about six miles. The average cost of constructing a double track LRT in North America is currently $35 million per mile ** and this alignment is along an existing freeway and pretty much entirely through open fields (golf course, greenbelt, freeway right of way in the Orleans built-up area). Surely even Ottawa could build this for a near-average cost. So, $210 million.
We need a station at Montreal Road, then one at Jeanne d’Arc, and the terminus at Place d’Orleans. For stations, add 3 x $50 million, or $150 million.
Total expansion cost of the track: about $400 million. Divide by the 50,000 households in Orleans, giving a per household cost of $8000. Amortize over 30 years (which is at least how long it would otherwise be before an Orleans extension of the OLRT could be justified) and it’s $266 per year on each household’s tax bill (interest costs are at an historic low rate, so I have ignored them; I expect interest costs might extend the payback period by a year or two, but I’ll leave that up to the number boffins, who can also figure out how much would be paid by new residents of the area as it grows).
That’s just $22 a month, per household. If there are two commuters, that’s $11 each.
So why would the Orleanais want to pay a special levy on their taxes to get what other residents get for their regular taxes?
Well, they’d get LRT and an escape from the Queensway traffic 30 years before their due. For those Orleanais who wouldn’t use the LRT, their $266 a year buys them space on the road for their car by getting their neighbours off it. And their house values would go up by maybe $8000 since the lack of access to Orleans supposedly suppresses their resale values today. No need to buy a car for the kid to go to college or university. And no need for mom or dad to find parking spaces at their destinations. And less car traffic on Orleans roads. And in Ottawa.
Of course, I ignored the operating cost of the extension. Purchasing the LRT vehicles and operating them is not free. But I think these costs could fairly be attributed across the whole city, as everyone across the city benefits from the Orleanais using fewer cars on the road (less congestion), and the LRT vehicles carry way more people per operator than do buses, reducing those costs the city as a whole would otherwise have been paying for bus service for the next thirty years.
I think one of our current planning problems is that we view transit as an expense, a cost centre. We don’t expect it to pay its way. Would that we did the same for roads, but we don’t, and that’s not going to change soon. So, to expand the LRT and keep Watson’s promise of low tax hikes, it would take a plebiscite from Orlean’s residents to see if they were willing to incur a local improvement tax.
Definitely worth hashing out some better numbers, and trying it out on a focus group of Orleanais. So, I think the first step is for an Orleans councillor to ask transportation committee to rough out a cost to extend from Blair to Orleans, along the Qway. (And eventually to raise bloody hell if it an Ottawa-built LRT along an open field, using an existing right of way, comes in costing more than the North American average).
And best of all, the Orleans LRT might piss off the Kanatans who would remain parked on their eight lane Qway.
*or so I have been told. I didn’t verify this.
**Wikipedia. Note that Ottawa’s initial phase includes a very expensive tunnel. And the western extension requires lots of grade separations and very nice landscaping. After that, who knows if Ottawa’s costs are typical? Fortunately, the Orleans extension is thru rather ordinary fields not yet naturalized by the NCC. It’s hard to imagine a simpler, easier to build route.
*** most residents in Ottawa who read the paper or listen to CFRA, even Sun readers, could probably identify $2 billion as the cost of the LRT. How many of them could identify the cost of new private-vehicle roads and bridges in the same planning/construction decade?