The Liberal government’s latest budget, tabled Tuesday afternoon, pledges to “address the demonstrated need for an additional National Capital Region crossing by refreshing existing studies and developing a long-term integrated interprovincial crossing plan.”
Federal budget 2019: Ottawa-Gatineau bridge battle revived as budget renews controversial project
The budget document proposes tasking the National Capital Commission (NCC) to lead this revived plan, in collaboration with the Ontario and Quebec governments and the municipalities of Ottawa and Gatineau.
This pledge “came as a surprise” and doesn’t align with the city’s priorities, Watson said on Parliament Hill on Tuesday afternoon. The mayor said he’d rather see those federal dollars used elsewhere.
Budget 2019: Ottawa-Gatineau bridge project revived
“Our priority is [public] transit,” he said. “If were going to be serious about reducing greenhouse gases and improving transit, we cant push and pull at the same time.
In light of the federal budget announcement, Pedneaud-Jobin said he’s planning a discussion with the NCC. “I’m quite convinced that Mr. Watson and I will have the same language on this issue. We have priorities, very clear priorities, and they have to be fulfilled before we start any other process.”
“We cant go and promote a bridge, which would just be primarily for cars, while were trying to build a transit link over to Gatineau.”
Tuesday’s federal budget proposes to kick-start the process to create a new interprovincial bridge, threatening to reopen old wounds from the last time the federal government, two provincial governments and two municipal governments tried to find a location to build a new crossing between Ottawa and Gatineau.
There are five interprovincial crossings that carry traffic back and forth over the Ottawa River: the Champlain, Chaudière, Portage, Alexandra and Macdonald-Cartier bridges.
READ MORE: Ottawa mayor says LeBreton Flats shouldnt be chopped up as NCC considers building in stages
Together with the NCC and the provincial government, the city worked for years on a controversial proposal to build a sixth bridge connecting Ontario and Quebec through Kettle Island, located across the river from the Manor Park neighbourhood northeast of downtown Ottawa.
Watson said there was widespread opposition to the project; many residents living in the area were reportedly worried about the impact an increase in traffic would have on their neighbourhoods. The city withdrew its support from the project, the province eventually “pulled the plug” in 2013 and the NCC followed suit, the mayor said.
“If this is sort of an opportunity to try and look at Kettle Island again, Im dead set against that,” Watson said of the proposal in the 2019 budget. “I dont want to see those series of neighbourhoods — Manor Park, Lindenlea, New Edinburgh and Montfort — eviscerated with a bridge going right through their community.”
The Kettle Island proposal had been one of three possible sites in Ottawa’s east end for a new bridge. The 2019 budget document didn’t provide any details about where a new crossing might be located, nor did it provide a dollar amount for what it will cost the NCC to bring the plan for a sixth bridge back to life.
According to the budget, the five interprovincial crossings over the Ottawa River collectively carry nearly 150,000 vehicles and 9,000 pedestrians and cyclists every day, representing an increase of more than 15,000 since 2015.
“These bridges are aging, with the newest bridge having been opened in 1973, and were built in an era when the National Capital Region had a much smaller population, fewer interprovincial commuters and far less congestion due to truck traffic,” the document reads.
Pedneaud-Jobin argued that a new crossing for drivers between Ottawa and Gatineau is not the answer to this growth in traffic. “We need a heavier transportation mode as soon as possible, so the answer is that project connecting to the LRT.”
But Watson said he believes a better way to tackle increased congestion in the Ottawa-Gatineau region is through light-rail transit, and he’d rather see federal money injected into a different bridge that he wants to be a part of Ottawa’s LRT network.
Just months before the end of the NCC-led bridge study, and after gauging the drama in those east Ottawa communities, the former Ontario Liberal government in June 2013 said it wouldn’t support a crossing at Kettle Island.
“My priority — if the federal government has additional money — is not to study a bridge for cars, its to study opening up the Prince of Wales Bridge for O-Train going from Bayview through the Prince of Wales Bridge to the [Alexandre-Taché] bus station in Gatineau,” he said.
The City of Ottawa and the Canadian Transportation Agency are currently locked in a legal dispute in Federal Court over the Prince of Wales Bridge.
If not a bridge, the city has other infrastructure projects on its wish list, too. Watson said the municipality has advocated for cash to fund an environmental assessment for an underground tunnel that would relieve truck traffic running through downtown Ottawa via King Edward Avenue, Rideau Street and Waller Street.
The idea picked up some steam, according to the mayor, but he said the city “never got any commitment from the federal government.”
As for the existing five interprovincial crossings, the federal budget also proposed to replace the 118-year-old Alexandra Bridge but didn’t indicate how much the government would contribute to that project, or when it would happen.
The budget promising an additional $21.7 million this year to address urgent pay administration issues, plus an additional $523.3 million over 5 years beginning next year for resources dedicated to addressing payroll errors. Another $9.2 billion will be given to ensure the Canada Revenue Agency is able to quickly process income tax reassessments for the federal employees affected. This all on top of whats already costed the government $1 billion.
The Alexandra Bridge is already in line for a series of repairs between June 2019 and December 2022. The demolition and replacement of the bridge would likely take about three years, according to Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), raising questions about the pressure this would add on the other crossings during that time.
Approximately nine per cent of the vehicles that travel between Ottawa and Gatineau on a daily basis use the Alexandra Bridge; that number rises to 33 per cent for pedestrians and cyclists who cross the river on the bridge’s boardwalk, according to PSPC.
The Liberal government also pledged to spend $80.4 million over a decade to “support the rehabilitation and ongoing maintenance” of the other crossings, including the Chaudière and Macdonald-Cartier bridges.
The federal government is calling for two new bridges spanning the Ottawa River, but will cross the questions of where, when and how much when they come to them.
Tuesday's budget calls for the demolition and eventual replacement of the 118-year-old Alexandra Bridge linking Ottawa and Gatineau, and promises a sixth bridge across the Ottawa River as part of a long-term crossing plan.
Ottawa Police says several cars were damaged after an erratic driver drove through the University of Ottawa campus.
The Alexandra Bridge project is expected to cause major traffic delays for motorists in the National Capital Region that could last years.
The bridge currently carries nearly 10 per cent of vehicular traffic between the two cities, and one-third of the pedestrian traffic.
Missing from the budget, however, are any details about what the project will cost. The budget only mentions about $80 million over 10 years for bridge maintenance and "improvements" in the region.
The plan for a sixth crossing would be spearheaded by the National Capital Commission, according to the government.
Among those studies is one dating back to the early 1990s that recommended building a bridge connecting the Aviation Parkway and Montée Paiement across Kettle Island, but the plan was set aside in the face of vehement opposition.
"We've tried that [many] years ago, it failed miserably and we spent millions," said Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin.
Pedneaud-Jobin stressed both municipalities must work together and agree on the location of any new bridge rather than accept a "top-down" directive.
Mayor Jim Watson agreed with his Gatineau counterpart about the Kettle Island plan, and called into question whether a sixth crossing is needed at all.
"The city has been very clear we don't support a bridge at Kettle Island. That would eviscerate a number of different neighbourhoods, and we're not on for that," Watson said.
Watson said a future tunnel to carry truck traffic under Ottawa's downtown is a bigger priority. According to a 2016 study, it would cost between $1.2 billion and $2 billion.
"You know, we can't have these trucks going down King Edward Avenue, Waller Street and Rideau Street, killing and hurting people," Watson said
Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury has also advocated moving forward on a tunnel that would divert large truck traffic from Ottawa's downtown.
"The devil's in the details," he said. "When do they plan to be able to fund this? Who will lead the effort? How will they engage with communities?"
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