City transit’s future is underground

A billion dollar tunnel will be delving under Ottawa’s downtown, but it’s yet to be decided what types of vehicles will pass through it.

All four options detailed yesterday in a new citywide transit plan feature tunnels: from bus-only, to a mixed bus-train tunnel to a pair of train-only options. All cost at least $3 billion each.


Mayor Larry O’Brien said any solution that doesn’t involve a tunnel is a waste of time and money because it will make the system slower and less reliable.

"I said if elected mayor I would hit the reset button on mass transit," he said. "During the campaign I said a ride on a world-class transit system begins with a ride on an escalator."

While all the choices employ tunnels, they differ in details and in price.

>> A bus-only tunnel, in which the entire system is bus-based except for the existing O-Train corridor, is the least expensive and easiest to implement, with the cost including vehicle maintenance pegged at $3.16 billion;

>> a tunnel system employing both buses and trains is the most expensive option at an estimated $3.87 billion, but would be the most flexible;

>> one of two train-only scenario would see light rail service from Baseline to Blair station and the existing O-Train to Greenboro station for $3.37 billion;

>> a second train option would convert the O-Train to LRT and extend it south to Bowesville Station, at a cost of $3.82 billion.

Nancy Schepers, Deputy City Manager for Planning, Transit and the Environment, said the tunnel would be built at natural grade changes, with the western opening likely at LeBreton Flats and the eastern opening south of the University of Ottawa.

The previous Light Right Transit plan rejected a downtown tunnel as too expensive, but Schepers said there’s recognition that Albert and Slater streets can not accommodate more buses.

"In the past there was a sense that we couldn’t move forward with the grade separation because we couldn’t afford it," she said. "What’s shifted in the public opinion is now people think we can’t afford not to."

The city will now hold open houses and seek public feedback. On April 16, staff will present their preferred transit plan, with alterations based on the input. This will be followed by more consultations into the preferred plan. City council will vote on the plan on May 28.

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