November 29th, 2007

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$2 Billion Transit Plan Rolls On
Josh Pringle
Thursday, November 29, 2007

City Council is hopping onboard a $2 billion ambitious transit plan that includes Light Rail and a downtown subway.

The transit vision drafted by the Transit and Transportation Committees was approved by Councillors during Wednesday's meeting.

The plan would see Light Rail Transit extended to Riverside South, the city explore Light Rail from the downtown to Cumberland and the completion of the transitway to the west and Barrhaven.

Councillors also approved the study of a downtown transit tunnel that could run from LeBreton Flats to the University of Ottawa. City Staff are studying the feasibility and cost of the downtown tunnel, which could accommodate Light Rail or buses.

Councillor Alex Cullen tells The Ottawa Citizen it will be a challenge for the city to come up with the cash to pay for the project.

The Ottawa Sun reports if Council can secure the necessary funding and environmental assessments are completed, the transit plan could be a reality in eight years.

From the CFRA site.

Then, from the Ottawa Citizen:

IDNUMBER 200711290100
PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2007.11.29
EDITION: Final
SECTION: City
PAGE: C1 / FRONT
BYLINE: Jake Rupert
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen
WORD COUNT: 843
Council sets $2-billion transit priorities; Councillors admit finding cash, deciding what to build first 'difficult'

City council set the municipality on a new $2-billion transit path yesterday when it approved a series of projects as immediate priorities, but the questions of what to build first and how to pay for the projects remain unanswered.

With very little dissent, council set its top priorities as a downtown tunnel, light rail to the south of the city, completing and extending the bus transitway to the west and Barrhaven, and developing a dedicated transit route in the east.

The city will now apply to the federal and provincial governments to release $200 million each had committed to the now cancelled north-south light-rail project to pay for the projects that are ready to go.

Other aspects of the system, including the tunnel, will be built when the requisite studies are done and funding is secured.

Gloucester-South Nepean Councillor Steve Desroches, whose ward will be served by light rail under the new plan, said it provides "practical transit solutions to all parts of the city."

However, he said agreeing on a vision for the future of transit was the easy step.

"Deciding what we do first and finding the money to pay for these things is going to be difficult," he said.

"Council will have to work together to solve those issues, and I don't expect it to be as easy as what we've just done."

The new approach will be anchored by a downtown tunnel, which is currently being costed and studied for feasibility by city staff.

Staff said a choice will be made by this spring on what kind of transit vehicles will run in the tunnel; so far, light-rail is the leading contender.

Once that choice is made, the required technology will eventually be used in all other branches of the system, including two other priorities included in the plan -- bringing rail service to the south of the city and building the Cumberland transit line.

The Cumberland transit line, if based on light rail, would run roughly from Trim Road, parallel to Innes Road, to the Blair transit station and downtown on the existing bus transitway -- which would be converted to light rail -- and into the tunnel. City staff are also looking at the possibility of extending light rail through downtown to the west on the existing transitway and stopping, for now, at a station at the Queensway.

All buses into the city from the suburbs would then stop at the Queensway and Blair stations and riders would transfer to the light-rail system.

Another priority is completion of the western bus transitway to connect downtown to the Kanata and Stittsville areas, and the extension of the bus transitway in Barrhaven. City staff say in the future, these bus transitways could be converted to light rail.

The city's deputy city manager of transit, planning and the environment, Nancy Schepers, said the new approach will result in a system that will be a benefit for generations to come, and if it gets derailed, it could set transit in the municipality back decades.

"This makes perfect sense," Ms. Schepers said in an interview. "It allows for a phasing in of a citywide transit plan that will move people quickly and efficiently for years to come.

"It sets clear priorities that are practical and that will lead logically to the next step and the next step until there is a citywide integrated system. It really has the potential to transform the city if done right."

River Councillor Maria McRae moved the motion containing the new plan after working on it along with Mr. Desroches, Mayor Larry O'Brien and other councillors on the city's transit committee and transit bureaucrats.

She said after a year of stumbling on the transit file since the old light-rail plan was cancelled, the city is back on track.

"It's really been a terrible year for transit issues and a lot of division was created on this council by the decision to cancel the old project, but we're getting things moving again," she said.

"This is going to help with congestion downtown and on our roads and provide a first-class public transit system for the city. Our public deserves better than what we have now, and if we want to grow transit ridership, this is the way to go."

Mr. O'Brien voted against the old plan because it didn't have a tunnel. He has been pushing for one since the first days of his election campaign in the summer of 2006.

Mr. O'Brien said he was delighted that council has decided to make a tunnel the centrepiece of its new transit direction.

"We can now move forward on transit," he said. "This is the kind of project we need to help make this city what it can be."

Bay Councillor Alex Cullen said it is going to be a challenge for the cash-strapped city to come up with the money for its share of the cost of the plan, but he's confident a way will be found. He said the provincial and federal governments have been saying they want to get into the transit funding business in a big way, so it will soon be time to hold them to their word.

"Once we are ready, we will be asking them for money, which they have and we don't," he said. "It's time to get moving, and we are. We just have to keep focused and see this through."

The new plan also has the potential to help settle two lawsuits that were launched against the city by companies chosen to design, construct, provide cars for and operate the line before it was cancelled.

Take a closer look and sound off about the transit plan at ottawacitizen.com

Online: Soundoff

Take a closer look and sound off

What do you think of the city's new transit plan? Read Jake Rupert's report, check out the maps and soundoff at ottawacitizen.com