Thursday, April 30, 2009

Funding a tunnel: Need money to go faster to get money

Bay councillor Alex Cullen just responded to a question I put to him with, in part, the following:
It is not possible to go faster without federal/provincial funding (this is coming).
As we noted on this site earlier, funding commitments made by other levels of government these days tend to favour projects that are ready to go. But as Cullen admits, this process cannot proceed any more quickly without funding.

Interesting quandary. Cullen says it's on the way, though, so we'll see exactly what that means.

Digging a tunnel: lessons from Edmonton

This was from the Ottawa Citizen towards the end of 2006:

Transportation expert John Bakker has a few words of advice about a downtown tunnel for Ottawa's proposed light-rail transit line: Don't do it.

"Going into tunnels is about 10 times as expensive as going on the surface because you have to relocate utilities," Mr Bakker said yesterday. "And you have to build stations, which are really extensive works, and very disruptive, too. Afterwards, you have high operating costs because of the ventilation systems."

Mr. Bakker, a civil engineer and professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, was part of a team that in 1968 recommended a downtown tunnel for Edmonton's light-rail system.

Bakker wrote a report about transit tunnels for lobby group Transport 2000 soon after the Citizen story went to print. In that report, which appeared in the December 2006 issue of Transport Action, Bakker pointed to a number of costs associated with tunnels that can add up quickly:

- relocation of utilities
- construction and maintenance of escalators and elevators, as well as stairs
- protection of entrances from "outside elements", requiring more space
- ventilation costs, which includes construction of reversible fans
- back-up power capability
- illumination of stations
- clean-up of graffiti

Funding a tunnel: Where will the money come from?

Ontario doled out $9 billion to various public-transit projects in and around the GTA just a few weeks ago. That pledge left a lot of transit advocates in Ottawa wondering when similar funding might flow in this direction. It's a good question.

It's important to remember that the projects in Toronto and the surrounding area are just about ready to go -- or at least further along than Ottawa's plans. Provincial and federal governments anxious to create short- and medium-term jobs in infrastructure like these projects, because they can make jobs soon.

Ottawa's tunnel isn't ready to go and digging won't begin until at least 2012, a timeline that might not lure investment from Queen's Park or Parliament Hill with the same excitement as more timely proposals.

Nevertheless, municipal folks in Ottawa are confident that money will flow.

Mayor Larry O'Brien thinks a funding announcement will come by summer. Councillor Alex Cullen repeated that yesterday on CBC's All in a Day. And Citizen editor and blogger Ken Gray reported last week that councillor Maria McRae said "the parties expect to reach an agreement by the end of the month".

The big questions are: How much money will come? And where will it come from?

Building a tunnel: second thoughts

Ottawa Citizen editor-blogger Ken Gray is skeptical that a tunnel underneath Ottawa will ever be dug and used for light rail.

His concerns, in sum: lack of funding from non-municipal government; uncertainty about cost of dig.

His conclusion:
Right now, we have a number of lines on maps, a far-off date for construction and fluid estimates for costs. Frankly, I'm not sure we'll see this plan get off the ground once the various realities set in. As an Ottawa taxpayer, I'm worried.
Here is what Gray says about difficulties Ontario Power Generation has had building a tunnel near Niagara Falls. An excerpt:

The original estimated cost for the project was $985 million, but now the tunnel could cost as much as $1.6 billion and be as much as three years late.

That's the problem with drilling underground -- you're never sure what you are going to get. During construction of the large trench for Highway 416 east of Bells Corners, water caused delays and problems for builders. The Woodroffe underpass at the rail tracks north of Fallowfield Road was crippled after workers found water.

What might Big Becky strike when it bores under downtown Ottawa?

Indeed, there are a lot of unknowns about this tunnel, and its opponents are ready and willing to let us all know what they are.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 on CBC's Ottawa Morning will appear on CBC Radio One's Ottawa Morning at 7:15 a.m. tomorrow morning.

We will be discussing reaction to the proposed downtown transit tunnel as recommended by city staff. For more information, see our earlier coverage.

Also on the panel is local blogger and young journalist David McClelland, the man behind The Ottawa Project and also a colleague of mine and Peter's at the Fulcrum.

What do you think about the tunnel? Does it follow an acceptable route? Are there enough stations? Are they in the best locations? Is the timeline for the project (shovels in the ground by 2012, construction for four or five years) acceptable? Will funding come from the provincial or federal governments?

Here is a link [PDF] to the briefing.

Listen live here or at 91.5 FM in Ottawa.

The podcast is available here. See the transcribed interview here.

Tunnel and station locations released

It's kind of neat knowing where Ottawa's light-rail tunnel, now known so glamorously as the Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel, will run whenever the shovels eventually turn up soil.

A few months ago, the City announced that a study was underway and that several tunnel options were being considered for station locations. We knew that there would be five stations, and generally where the tunnel would begin and end, but the downtown stations in particular could have been built [PDF] at one of Sparks, Queen, Albert, or Slater streets.

Today, City staff recommended where to build those stations.

From the Citizen story:

[The tunnel] will start on the downtown edge of Lebreton Flats, roughly at Albert Street, run under the road to roughly Kent Street, then angle northward and cross downtown under streets and buildings and under Confederation Square.

It will then go under the canal to roughly Rideau Street and Sussex Drive, then loop south under more streets and buildings before lining up under Nicholas Street, passing the University of Ottawa campus before popping back to the surface on the existing transitway near Lees Station.

And where will the stations be?

One will be above ground on Lebreton Flats. The four other stations will be underground between Bay and Lyon streets, O’Connor and Metcalfe streets, near Rideau Street and Sussex Drive, and at the university.

The stations will have platforms in the centre with rail lines running on either side of them, the note says.

Dave McClelland at the Ottawa Project has a neat map that pinpoints the projected tunnel and its station locations. He also talks about the viability of the old Union Station as a new, improved transit stop:

If the city can get the federal government to sell them Union Station back, then perhaps it can be reopened to trains; albeit a very different kind from what once went through there.

Interesting concept. The feds currently use the building as a conference centre, but all the main elements of a transit station are there (you can check it out during Doors Open Ottawa this year and see for yourself).

UPDATE: Further to Dave's idea, check out this map from the briefing to council. Evidently, building a station directly underneath the Government Conference Centre was a consideration.

More comment on this coming here at

Saturday, April 25, 2009

OC Transpo management, staff still need to improve workplace

It's a little while after the initial publication, but a report on CBC suggested that, after the 53-day transit strike, OC Transpo staff and management need to get down to brass tacks in order to improve the working environment and ease tensions.

From the report:
Following the transit strike, he said, OC Transpo's employees and managers have more work to do again.

"We're going to have to find some way to rebuild that trust," said Smith. "Things haven't really changed all that much."

In order to make those changes post-strike, both sides need to put in some time and effort, he said.

"We have to do it again, whether we like it or not," said Smith. "It's going to take everybody collectively to do this."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Watch out, is watching your back

Just a note to readers who take the bus:

Craig Davey over at has updated bus schedules on his site. For those of you who haven't seen his site, it's a very useful tool that catalogues every schedule at every Transitway station and every street-side stop in the city.

So if you want to know when your bus of choice will pull in to any Transitway station or bus stop near or far, check it out. Craig has deliberately made the site very easy to use.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Leaked memos on Siemens lawsuit reveal council confusion

Ottawa Citizen reporter Ken Gray published a number of leaked memos surrounding the cancelled North-South transit line and subsequent lawsuit from Siemens, mostly involving Capital Ward Councillor Clive Doucet.

Councillors Debate Merits of Siemens Lawsuit: Leaked Memos

Councillors Demand Information On Siemens Lawsuit: Leaked Memos

The memos reveal a significant degree of secrecy surrounding the lawsuit, and a fair degree of unwillingness to discuss any possible options Council could pursue, even in-camera.

A certain question posed by Councillor Doucet intrigues me, as well, and I'm sure most citizens would be interested in hearing any details in response. The e-mail, sent to City Solicitor Rick O'Connor, came back with a response stating that any discussion of these possibilities was already approached--which Doucet disagreed with.
It's clear the city is going to have to pay a settlement to Siemens in one of three ways: 1) the court will impose one; 2) there will be an out of court settlement; 3) the settlement will be made via a partial restoration of the old project with Siemens getting this contract as part of the settlement.

My question regarding these three options is "Have we approached Siemens or have they approached us about settling via a partial restoration of the project?" If the answer is in the affirmative, can we have some details on what exactly that third option might look like?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Articulated bus glitch disturbs OC service UPDATED: Lawsuit underway

Just a few weeks after OC Transpo bus maintenance was revealed as having a hard time staying on schedule, another setback for Ottawa's transit utility's fleet: New Flyer's articulated buses were sold with a defective fastening device, keeping 48 of the workhorse of the transit fleet off the roads. The city is apparently looking at possible legal action to seek compensation for costs associated with the defects.

From the Ottawa Citizen:
Councillor Peter Hume agreed the city needs to consider legal action.

While New Flyer is covering the cost of the repairs, Councillor Rob Jellett said there are other costs the city is incurring, such as overtime for mechanics and erosion of service, for which the city should be compensated

"We are looking at all of our options," said city solicitor Rick O'Connor.
Makes you wonder if some of the new double decker buses might be taking a larger load on the fleet.

UPDATE: According to the Ottawa Citizen, the city is already in the midst of a lawsuit against New Flyer regarding defects within buses purchased:

Turns out the city filed a $1-million suit against the company last fall alleging the brakes on 14 buses received from the company between 2002 and 2006 were defective. The case is outstanding. The call for more court action came after OC Transpo general manager Alain Mercier revealed last week that a defect in the device that attaches the front and back portions of the long buses raised enough safety concerns to sideline 41 of 48 buses the city recently received from the company. This further delays OC Transpo’s return to full service following last winter’s transit strike.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Public transit funding: Ottawa vs. Toronto

Over the next couple of days, Public Transit in Ottawa is going to look at two enormous visions for public transit in Ontario: Ottawa's transportation master plan and Toronto's Transit City proposal.

They both call for multi-billion-dollar investments over the short-, medium-, and long-term and are competing for funding from the province. Elements of Toronto's plan got a big boost after premier Dalton McGuinty pledged over $4 billion to several projects, an announcement that has some in Ottawa asking about what residents here can expect.

Stay tuned to this space.

Friday, April 3, 2009

New direction for Ottawa city planning

About a year ago, Randall Denley posed a question to Ottawa's city planners: Are we a city, or a collection of suburbs? If the city's to-do list on stimulus projects is any indication, the current council has made up their mind: City.

From the Ottawa Citizen:

The City of Ottawa has created a “menu” of $640-million worth of projects from which the federal and provincial governments can pick when they want to spend infrastructure money to stimulate the economy.

The project lists, released Monday at city council’s economic affairs committee, assign top priority to public transit and give the lowest priority to new suburban roads. The lists include projects that can be built in the next two years to give the federal and provincial governments the job boost they hope to deliver with this year’s budgets. The federal government has four funds for which the city can apply for money.
The problem that seems to arise out of that is that it leaves existing infrastructural deficiencies in the suburbs unaddressed, but that's not that case, again according to the Citizen:

The transit projects include Transitway expansion from Fallowfield Drive to Barrhaven Town Centre, construction of a tunnel at Baseline transit station and the pedestrian overpass connecting Baseline Station to Algonquin College.


If the federal and provincial governments want to fund growth, new road projects include Hazeldean, Earl Armstrong, Limebank, Mer Bleue, Trim, Innes, Terry Fox and Hunt Club are offered up as road expansions that are ready to go.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Queen's Park giving transit cash; Ottawa hopeful

After a $9B transit funding announcement from the Province of Ontario for Toronto transit projects, City of Ottawa officials are hopeful that the province will kick in their third of the City's multi-billion dollar light-rail transit plan.

From the Ottawa Metro:

The announcement should free up provincial politicians to turn their attention to the premier's hometown, said Mayor Larry O'Brien.

Ottawa is looking for the federal and provincial governments to each pay a third of a $1.4 billion first phase of a rapid transit network that would see a 12-km light rail line running from Blair Station through a downtown tunnel to Tunney's Pasture.

O'Brien said Ottawa is in a very similar position that Metrolinx (formerly the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority) was in around a year ago and he expects Ottawa to catch up by the end of the year.

"You have to through a number of stages. The first stage is you have to get the buy-in to the vision and we're anticipating that will happen much sooner than six months to nine months," he said.