The western extension of the LRT used to have a high-profile, but has been out of sight for a long time. No public advisory group meetings for ages.
Some of the low profile is understandable. They were clearly doing some very detailed planning and costing exercises, so that a fully informed decision can eventually be made. Decisions made in haste, or under the barrage of emotional or superficial criticism, are seldom good decisions.
Today’s Sun has a story that the Carling option is dead, due to cost.
Recall that there are three main route options: Carling, Richmond, or the Parkway. For each route, there are sub-options and variations galore.
The Carling route has always been the most expensive to build, offered the slowest service, which therefore requires more train sets running to maintain the three minute headways. Expensive to build, expensive to operate, and probably less attractive to suburban commuters. And I always felt the proponents underestimated the disruption that route would cause to businesses and residents along the corridor since many of the minor cross streets would have to be closed. Carling would become something like a two-way pair (think Albert and Slater) for motorists. Sacrificing the local is not the recipe for a successful main street. On the other hand, the city does plan to eventually upgrade transit along Carling, probably with a local-service style LRT, and some think that combining the two types of service would be economical (I’m totally unconvinced).
The Richmond corridor route would reuse the transitway trench from Tunney’s to Dominion. The LRT would then travel a few hundred yards along the south edge of the parkway, possibly just to Rochester field (beside the Keg Manor restaurant) where it would shift south to take over the south side lanes of Richmond Road going west to Lincoln Fields. It would nibble away at a few bits of the Byron dog-walking park, but most of the route would be on the Richmond Road space, ducking under Woodroffe. There is lots of potential for intensification on the north side of Richmond: picture new highrises like the Charlesfort one just built at Cleary, replacing most of the Mac’s Milk plazas, car dealerships, and Rogers Cable that form such an undistinguished parade between Richmond and the Parkway. As our Mayor said last week, picture high buildings. Lots of very high buildings.
Much is being made of the refusal of the NCC to give up the Parkway. But a lot of that opposition dates from several years ago, and the NCC is much more self-aware of its 1960’s auto-is-king mindset. They are now open to removing car lanes in favour of bike lanes on Wellington, and recognize that transit will be used by the majority of people going downtown. Bill Clinton and the Queen may not be taking the LRT, but the Ottawa River Commuter Expressway would remain for them. Possibly, though, it would be a two lane road west of Island Park, like Colonel By Drive, instead of a four-lane divided arterial. Put in a few stops along the parkway, and the LRT would offer almost the same level of service to an intensifying Richmond corridor. So I don’t think the NCC’s opposition to the Parkway route is a firm today as it was a few years ago.
Now, lets look at the politics on the table. The NCC wants an iconic arrival station at Confederation Square. The City says that will cost $50 million to build, and will require some additional train sets to maintain the same frequency of service. If the ORP route is at least $50 million cheaper than the Richmond Road route, doesn’t that suggest there is room for a trade-off?
I don’t know what route the City and its partners will choose. My preference is Richmond Road, as it offers the most city-building options. Mind, I think it should adopt the Richmond Corridor right from Westboro Station, and the City has already ruled that out the McRae jog over to Richmond. Alas, no President’s Choice station at the Westboro Loblaws.
I don’t see buckets of money coming from the Feds or Province any time soon, so I think we will have to self-finance the western LRT, ie get the winning contractor to design-finance-build the western extension and get paid back over 20 years from the development charges levied on all the new high rises along the route. If this was done, we could get the western LRT opened very shortly after the downtown section.