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Ottawa city council fast-tracks feasibility study on light-rail transit tunnel

Korky Koroluk

Columnist Korky Koroluk writes that a decision by city council to fast-track a study of a light-rail transit tunnel under the Ottawa downtown core has given the project new momentum.

Infrastructure

OTTAWA

The move to construct a light-rail transit tunnel under the Ottawa downtown core has gathered momentum with a decision by city council to fast-track a study of the project.

Mayor Larry O’Brien called the decision a “great step forward,” and predicted that the study of a tunnel’s feasibility, environmental impact and cost could be completed within a year.

After voting to speed up the study, councillors, in a separate vote, rejected further examination of surface routes to accommodate a light-rail system across the core area.

A project previously approved, then cancelled, would have had trains running on two already-congested streets, along with buses and other traffic. That plan had been vigorously opposed by businesses along the route.

After that plan was cancelled, O’Brien commissioned a task force to consider transit alternatives for the city and the surrounding area. A downtown tunnel was a central feature in its report.

Both short-term and long-term possibilities for light rail exist, including both east-west and north-south corridors.

But council deferred action on any of them until the matter of the tunnel is settled.

The idea of a tunnel has come up several times over the years, but rejected each time as too expensive, even though no real estimates were produced. When the most recent proposal surfaced, it was suggested that the tunnel, which would be about four kilometres long, might cost in excess of $500 million.

Both federal and provincial governments had previously pledged $200 million each toward a light-rail system. When the previous project was cancelled, Premier Dalton McGuinty said the provincial funding remained available. It was not known whether the federal money was to stay in place.

Both senior governments will be asked to participate in funding any tunnel project.

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