Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Questioning Ottawa's downtown tunnel

On last Thursday, the Ottawa Citizen's Ken Gray wrote an editorial raising the significant number of questions surrounding the light-rail route recently approved by city council. The route, whose downtown portion is shown above in a map courtesy of The Ottawa Project, has raised some concerns from interested parties.
Many of these concerns were raised by Gray in his editorial:
  • Transport Canada believes the city's $550-million cost estimate is low
  • Minister John Baird isn't sold on Phase 1
  • Ottawa doesn't have permission from the Department of Public Works and Government Services Public Works to "drill beside the Langevin Block where Stephen Harper toils, or near the war memorial or the federal conference centre"
  • The National Capital Commission (NCC) is, according to Gray, "unlikely to permit rail to run down the Ottawa River Parkway"
  • Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty "is wary about rail"
  • That the depth of the tunnel, which will have to run below existing structural foundations, makes it less beneficial for business interests downtown to invest in the stations
  • As well, Ottawa's downtown business community had expressed preference for a different route
  • The route is, in Gray's words, "unlikely to garner many more riders because it travels much the same route as the Transitway"
  • There is little room for further development on route, particularly the Parkway (assuming the NCC gives permission to use that route)
  • And that Gray, and many other critics, argue "that tunnelling is financially and technically risky"
There are, certainly, plenty of positives to take from Ottawa building a transit line, but it seems to be the concerns which are dominating the news these days.

What are your opinions on the tunnel, and how it's progressed so far? Are you in favour of the route, or do you have problems with how it's going forward (or, if it's your belief, backward)?


WJM said...

My thoughts?

Abolish the NCC, for starters.

Anonymous said...

The tunnel is the only way to get through the downtown. There's physically no other way possible unless we're going to have some kind of a dedicated track which runs above the street level 20 / 30 feet off the ground. There's no other way to do it. SO just do it I say.

Anonymous said...

Contrary to what the newspaper says, the DOTT study process includes briefings to the Feds, and certainly the NCC. At the very beginning, running under the NAC and DND was ruled out. Its rather silly to say they dont have persmission to go under the Langevin block, as the study is still dealing with route choices, but the feds havent objected to that routing. And what risk will Stevie or Iggy have from a tunnel six stories below their basement? A nuclear device??

Similarly, the DOTT hasnt permission to use the western parkway because the study only goes to Tunneys. The route beyond there (parkway vs byron vs other?) is subject for the next phase, starting shortly.

The current DOTT tunnel is essentially flat from LeBreton to Campus (economical energy costwise), and the downtown surface is on a hill above it. I am concerned the tunnel is too deep down, but the track could be brought up part way.

But to bring it up to run a shallow tunnel under Albert requires two separate tunnels under Albert and Slater since each street by itself isnt wide enough to include the whole station (according to the DOTT planners) so we would have twice as many stations, gates, attendants, and access escalators and elevators if we have to have separate east and westbound stations. And the multitude of stations would be less user friendly.

As for an underground city, that was ruled out as the DOTT study began. Cities the size of Ottawa cannot support two lively streetscapes - one at street level, and one in underground concourses, let alone 3, if above ground plus 16's are built.

there are many parts of the DOTT I would not choose myself ... but most of the criticisms in the blog entry were already addressed by DOTT and at the public meetings.

Eric Darwin

Anonymous said...

The requirement for the tunnel was predicated upon the hundreds of busses that transit the Slater/Albert corridors each (work)day. With Light Rail the number of transit vehicles transitting the downtown core will be greatly reduced; so, there's no longer a reason for a tunnel. Go surface on Queen Street and eliminate all cross traffic North of Queen.

Anonymous said...

My personal concern for the tunnel (aside from the budget issues) is the depth of this tunnel being much deeper than other cities. Other cities such as Montreal and Toronto have shallow tunnels which do not pose a great threat or inconvenience to the Ottawa public. This tunnel would require the use of several escalators and elevators which we know through experience are prone to breaking down on a regular basis as we have seen with St. Laurent station. There are simply too many stairs to climb in the event of these breakdowns and/or power outages. How will someone in a wheelchair feel being stuck in an elevator that stops halfway down? It just doesn't appeal to me from a safety issue in many ways.

HM in Ottawa