Just when Ottawa’s proposed light rail plans, complicated by an upcoming election, tricky tunnel logistics and uncertain funding, seem further away than ever, a study by the National Capital Commission, Gatineau and Ottawa may be about to propose a rail link across the river.

The light rail loop would link the National Gallery, Parliament Buildings and War Museum on the Ontario side with Place de Portage and the Museum of Civilization on the Quebec side.

While such a setup would be a boon to tourists, it’s primarily looked at as a solution to our cross-border commuter gridlock. During a typical morning rush, OC Transpo moves about 5,000 people per hour into Gatineau, while STO transports about 2,000 people back this way.
Rideau and Wellington streets are thus jammed with two transit systems’ buses, each often returning home practically empty. Add the inevitable crush of car commuters and those few bridges across the river become major choke points.


With transfers from existing transit on both sides of the river and trains running at five-minute intervals, the loop could not only break up the bus clog, but also take a number of cars off the bridges by making transit more attractive, increasing ridership and revenue for both OC Transpo and STO.

The question of who picks up the cheque is always a tricky one, but with two municipalities, two provinces and the feds at the table, the burden could well be bearable if the political will can be found.

The price tag, estimated at $110 million to $200 million when the plan was last floated in 2001, is a fraction of the projected and ever-increasing cost of Ottawa’s own light rail plans, for which the downtown tunnel alone starts at $600 million -- a price almost certain to rise.

The interprovincial loop, should it come to pass, could serve as a trial run for more light rail, showing residents what can be done with trains and perhaps adding new impetus to Ottawa’s plans. Improvements to Bayview and LeBreton stations to accommodate this project could serve as a head start on the Ottawa line.

The transit link would finally give OC Transpo and STO a reason to co-operate and co-ordinate for mutual benefit, and would break down the two-solitude dynamic that continues to divide the National Capital Region.

Many Gatineau and Ottawa dwellers spend most of their lives on their own side of the river. Light rail would make it easier not just for tourists and commuters, but residents in general to scoot across and see what the rest of their region has to offer.

– Steve Collins lives, writes and walks in Ottawa; ottawaletters@metronews.ca

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