In his weekly column on Wednesday, Ottawa Citizen writer Ken Gray attacked the city's current transit plan, saying that an underground tunnel is too expensive and that it won't help commuters quickly enough to justify its cost. The 12.5km plan is currently estimated to cost $2.1B, and includes light-rail from Tunney's Pasture through a four-stop, $735M downtown tunnel to Blair Station in the east.
From Gray's column:
The current plan, certain to be an election issue over the coming weeks, is not even mediocre. Ottawans, you're massively overpaying. You're buying a Volkswagen with a BMW price tag.
[...]Ottawans need to stop spending big dollars for projects that don't work. The commuting traffic problems in Ottawa are now, not in 2018. And the biggest problem with the current light-rail plan is that is does nothing to solve the problem of commuting. Too much money on a tunnel, not enough line. That's a stupendous miss after spending billions.
Instead of the plan that's on the table today, Gray suggests he'd like to see surface rail through the downtown core, and using the savings from cancelling the tunnel towards extending the line further east, west, and south.
Gray isn't the first person to question Ottawa's current transit plan. Former mayor Andy Haydon criticized the plan in its entirety, saying that bus-rapid transit is better than light-rail for Ottawa. And mayoral candidate Jim Watson--along with a number of other candidates--has been wondering about the affordability of the plan, and the tunnel in particular (although his tone seems to have softened lately).
In cautioning about cost-overruns, Gray may have reason; the plan was originally thought to cost $1.8B, but that number climbed to $2.1B as the estimates were refined. Still, mayoral candidate Alex Cullen is confident that the estimates of city staff are sound, and said that the $2.1B price tag leaves enough buffer room to avoid threatening the city's finances--but staff have been asked to save money wherever possible, in an effort to come in on or even under budget.
It's easy to get scared of cost-overruns when discussing transit mega-projects (the Big Dig always comes to mind), and it's difficult to assuage that fear in Ottawa given the... mixed results our city has had, particularly in recent memory. But what do you think: Can Ottawa afford its current transit plan?