Mayor’s transit plans receive unanimous support at summit
TRACEY TONG/METRO OTTAWA
Elected representatives of more than 30 area municipalities unanimously supported Mayor Larry O’Brien’s vision for regional commuter rail during a ‘transit summit’ held yesterday at city hall.
“I’m delighted,” O’Brien said of the Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec Transit Summit. “Everyone saw the merit of an integrated transportation system.”
As proposed in the Mayor’s Task Force on Transportation’s report, a regional rail system would link Ottawa-Gatineau with outlying municipalities, feeding commuters — many of whom now drive cars into the city — into the capital’s transit system.
Among the municipalities that supported O’Brien’s plan in principle yesterday were: Arnprior, Brockville, Casselman, Cornwall, Hawkesbury, Merrickville-Wolford, North Glengarry, Pembroke, Rideau Lakes and Smiths Falls.
Using existing rail corridors and diesel-electric bimode trains, task force members said the service would be relatively easy to establish.
“Every single day, thousands of people drive into Ottawa to work, study and play,” O’Brien said. “Many of these commuters have told me, as I’m sure they’ve expressed to you, that an affordable commuter system would get them off the roads.”
Upper-tier governments have reacted positively to the proposal, O’Brien said, but he warned that municipalities must speak with a single voice to ensure maximum funding.
Each municipality would be responsible for any costs to link with Ottawa’s transit system, but that didn’t suppress mayors’ enthusiasm for the project.
“There’s a significant number of people in our community extremely excited about the opportunities,” said Smiths Falls Mayor Dennis Staples.
Prescott Mayor Suzanne Dodge said her town is home to many young commuter families. She’ll start a process to pinpoint the number of Prescott’s commuters to Ottawa, to learn how many people regional rail could help.
Hawkesbury Mayor Jeanne Charlebois supports the principle of commuter rail, but is wary that her municipality would be supporting a project not of direct benefit to it, since the train wouldn’t reach the town directly.
While the plan has general support among transit advocates, some worry that council is spending too much energy on a regional plan that will take years to complete at the expense of immediate transit problems within the city.
But the task force’s recommendations provide for city needs, as well as those of outlying areas, said chairman David Collenette.