My discussion with mayoral candidate Clive Doucet was a little different than that with other candidates I've interviewed so far: Rather than a one-on-one interview, Doucet held a press conference on transit issues on September 8, which I attended (I was able to ask him a few questions one-to-one, afterwards). The presser dealt with a few transit issues, but the biggest Doucet wanted to discuss was his alternative transit plan, which basically boils down to this: Surface light-rail along Carling in the west, Laurier in the centre, extending the O-Train to the airport and Riverside South in the south, and somewhere to Orleans--all alongside the existing bus-rapid transit system.
At the heart of the election, the defining decision for the citizens of Ottawa will be how we decide to invest in light-rail. Ottawa faces a critical east-west traffic problem, especially on our Queensway, the 417. Building a downtown tunnel will not solve this. We can spend $3B for a 3.4km tunnel in our downtown and it will never do anything to fix our east-west traffic jams. It won’t do it because the tunnel will add no new capacity for east-west commuters. All the tunnel [will do] is replacing an existing service on the surface with enormous bus-rail transfer stations at each end of the tunnel. There is a concern that this tunnel will even make it longer across the downtown.
There’s only one way to increase capacity on our east-west corridor and reduce pressure on the 417: A parallel rail service to the busway and the 417. With LRT running on Carling Avenue in the west and Orleans in the East, people will have a real travel choice between buses, trains, and cars. This is what we must do: LRT in four years from Kanata to Orleans, from Riverside South to Centretown, and the airport. Can it be done? Of course it can.
Doucet said that because the city owns rights-of-way on Carling Avenue, Laurier Avenue, and the other routes he's planning to implement surface rail, the cost would be about "around $2B". The western portion of his plan is very similar to that he presented in November 2008, with his Light Rail Now! alternative promoting rail on Carling. After the presser, Doucet dismissed concerns about the numerous intersections an at-grade train would have to pass on Carling, saying that Morrison Renfrew--a transportation consultant he's cited often in the past--found that there would only need to be two grade-separated crossings along the line (the rest would be, presumably, timed traffic standards).
A few concerns with Doucet's plan have been raised since its launch, most notably by West Side Action's Eric Darwin. It's unclear, for instance, how a light-rail spur will connect from the O-Train station at Bayview to the Laurier rail line without impinging on the BRT service that is to remain in complement to it.
Still, Doucet's main argument is a valid one: If the expense of a tunnel is avoided, the city will have more money to spend extending service further out. It boils down to whether or not you feel surface rail is sufficient. Doucet, obviously, feels it is, and he's given himself an ambitious timeline to implement his plan:
As mayor, I will chair the transit committee, and we will have the contracts in place within six months, and construction underway shortly thereafter.