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Tunnel vision and the city’s trust deficit

As the City of Ottawa rolls out new information on our proposeddowntown transit tunnel, sunny projections of an end to trafficcongestion only seem to provoke the same buyer-beware reaction as theLansdowne Live sales job.

As the City of Ottawa rolls out new information on our proposed downtown transit tunnel, sunny projections of an end to traffic congestion only seem to provoke the same buyer-beware reaction as the Lansdowne Live sales job.

A call to businesses to partner in the development of rail stations drew few responses as uncertainty surrounds the entire project. Slightly more adventurous investors would call that “risk,” and look to profit from taking it, but our conservative local businesses are mindful of who’s making the pitch.

The city currently estimates the tunnel itself will only cost $600 million of the entire $5-billion transit overhaul, but expect those numbers to rise sharply.

Tunnels, in particular, can by tricky. Witness Boston’s “Big Dig” highway project, an admitted worst-case scenario, which was slated to cost $2.8 billion in 1985, but is now estimated at $22 billion by the time the debt is finally paid off in 2038.

Business and public skepticism are hardly surprising, given the erratic course of transit planning so far, notably the cancellation of our last light rail system, at a cost of $100 million.

The credibility of our mayor and council is, let’s say, modest. Early on, Mayor Larry O’Brien proved he couldn’t drive 55 on his promised “zero means zero” tax freeze.

Many citizens, when they imagine O’Brien and company at the wheel of our transit planning, are reminded of that bus driver in Surrey caught apparently solving Sudoku puzzles while driving. We certainly want to make sure that, at the very least, a first aid kit, fire extinguisher, and the mayor’s press flack Jasmine MacDonnell are all aboard. And still we expect a bumpy ride.

O’Brien also didn’t help his case this week with an Ottawa Citizen opinion piece in which he indulged in his usual hyperbole on the current state of our bus system: “As the city grows and ridership increases, the bus system in the downtown will get worse and eventually fail.

Those of you who have stood on Albert Street on a dark afternoon in January, staring down a line of buses, shivering and wondering when yours will arrive, know that we are near that breaking point.”

As someone who actually waits for downtown buses on a regular basis, I can attest it’s not fun, but the system hardly seems “at the breaking point.” The main problem this year on dark January afternoons was there were no damned buses, period.

 
 
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