Thursday, June 17, 2010

Citizen's Gray laments the cancellation of the north-south LRT line

On his The Bulldog blog yesterday, Ottawa Citizen columnist Ken Gray eulogized what he called the 'tragic' cancellation of the 2006 north-south light-rail line, citing a large number of reasons outlining why he thinks the move was a mistake:
  • The first project would have cost $884 million with the Siemens consortium paying for any overruns. The current plan is expected to cost $2.1 billion or as much as 25 per cent more if overruns occur. The city is unlikely to be able to stick the builder of the project with overruns because of possible expensive difficulties with the tunnel
  • Four lost years of planning
  • The first project ran from Barrhaven to the University of Ottawa. The new project runs from Tunney's Pasture to Blair Road ... 12.5 kilometres or one stop west of where the north-south plan would have done
  • The first project would be operating now. The new plan is expected to be completed in 2019
  • The environmental assessment for east-west rail would be completed or near completion now, putting east-west rail farther ahead today than it is with the current plan
Those are just a few of the many points Gray outlined, before he began outlining some reasons he believes the downtown tunnel is a mistake. And, as long as the construction went as scheduled, every point he's made there is correct. The north-south line was to include 29km of surface rail through downtown (8km of which is existing O-Train service), while the current plan calls for 12.5km, including a tunnel downtown. Obviously, the distance traveled is a significant difference, but proponents of cancellation have consistently gone back to their suggestion that a tunnel downtown represents the only solution to the current congestion there.

Still, opponents of the cancellation have plenty of good arguments of their own--the most powerful being the fact that had we gone through with it, we would now be looking at adding an east-west portion to the north-south line that would be running today.

The process of cancellation was a complicated one, still shrouded in a fair bit of mystery. In the inaugural issue of the Journal of Public Transit in Ottawa, I tried to offer some clarification in the process, but it remains difficult to fully comprehend. The quick version is that many were put off by the secrecy surrounding the process, and many others opposed surface rail in the core; when a truncated line leaving the downtown portion out, the Ontario government refused to support the different plan; when it was restored, the federal government wasn't prepared to re-commit their money. So the plan was cancelled, and the process of building a new one began.

Whether you agree with Gray in seeing the cancellation as a mistake or not, there comes a point where re-hashing the same old arguments over and over again is no longer constructive. The plan was cancelled four years ago, and perhaps we all need to take the lessons from that plan, and focus on ensuring that the current plan doesn't fall victim to the same mistakes.