LRT – Ottawa’s Big Dig (Our Future White Elephant)

By far the MOST IMPORTANT issue facing us within the City of Ottawa at this point in time is the ill – conceived LRT project. In far too many ways it is our “elephant in the room”, a project that has been a mistake from the start. Let’s have the City for once tell the truth – that is a “Subway Project”. Without a doubt this project was merely an attempt by a group of municipal politicians to create a “legacy” for themselves – i.e. “we created Ottawa’s Subway”.

History of the Issue

We have all watched in astonishment at the incompetence of Council as this transportation “mega project” has unfolded. As usual, our representative, Mr. Thompson, flip-flopped with Council on this issue. First he voted for the “north – south route”, then when some public opinion turned against it, he voted with Larry O’Brien and the other councilors against it in 2006. (Ottawa LRT Timeline )

What was the problem at the time? The project had met its approvals and been signed off on. However, Bob Chiarelli and others acted so miserably and with such secrecy about the process that it sparked concerns. We can recall Bob Chiarelli even swearing at councilor Glen Brooks in discussions regarding the project. Unfortunately, only a very few people were included in the “inner circle” of the details regarding the project. Therefore, this “cloud of incompetent bureaucracy” led to the cancellation of the project at a cost of approximately $36.7 million dollars to us, the municipal taxpayers.

In many ways, the “north – south route” would have been better for our area. It not only brought public transportation closer to our area, but also, it included the completion of the mad needed Strandherd – Armstrong bridge. Indeed, we would have been traveling over this bridge for some time now if our representatives had not cancelled the project. Also, it would have came in at a cost of less than half of the current undertaking. (North – South LRT a lost opportunity)

It now appears that primarily due to the fact that they had essentially nothing to show for all the cost and time spent pontificating regarding the “north – south route” that they came up with this new “legacy attempt”. Moreover, prior to the election in 2010, I can recall Jim Watson not even being sure he wanted this project. Now he and his band of misfit Councillors have brought into this so deeply they are learching into additional “phases” of this nonsense.

An Inconvenience

This is definitely the wrong project at the wrong time for us as taxpayers and the Cities transportation system. First, it will not take one car off our clogged roadways leading in and out of the city whenever it is completed. Moreover, it will cause significant disruption to the transportation system while it is being constructed as the proposal calls for part of the existing transit way to be ripped up and buses re-routed up to the already crowded Queensway. Indeed, many people will be extreamely inconvenienced on their trips for perhaps years as this mess is being constructed. (LRT to create highway havoc in Ottawa)
(Many road closures planned for LRT build)

Furthermore, the end product will greatly increase the inconvenience and cost of any trip into the City. We now know that it will be a “separate” cost for the LRT part of the trip outside of the bus portion. Many people will be forced to get off the bus, get on to the LRT, and then get back on the bus for the rest of the trip. So not only will the cost of the trip be increased, but also, the time involved in the trip will undoubtedly be lengthened. Moreover, the image of everything connecting exactly on time is only a “pipe dream”.

Structural Concerns

During the 2010 election, I clearly stated in my campaign information my concerns regarding this project. As a geography major and someone who has studied geological structures, I expressed my deep reservations about this undertaking at all in the stated area, As you know, Ottawa is part of the St. Lawrence Lowland fault line and sesmic activity including earthquakes of varying degrees can and will occur. In my opinion, digging down to this depth in this particular area can only compromise the compacting that has occurred over time. (A monorail such as the Chicago El would have made more sense considering this).

In February of this year, the first signs of problems have unfortunately already “reared their ugly head!” As you know, a giant sink – hole developed at the corner of Laurier and Waller. Although the City tried to deny it, this was clearly caused by the boring that was taking place underneath for the LRT. What did the planners think the name Sandy Hill meant???
(Massive sinkhole halts Ottawa lrt tunnel)

This is merely the first of many potential problems that could occur with this project. Buildings near the dig already have felt the ground shaking from the boring. As you know, they are attempting in some areas to dig under high-rise buildings that already exist. Under these buildings I have concerns with regard to the fibre – optic cables, water mains, septics and so on being compromised. More delays and cost over-runs will undoubtedly occur. Please trust me, the LRT during the next few years could potentially evolve into Ottawa’s version of the “Big Dig” (please refer to Boston’s “Big Dig” to see what can occur with a project of this magnitude).

Costs

Now we come to the most significant aspect of this for us as taxpayers, the various costs involved with this project. To this council and Mr. Watson, money is no object, 2.1 BILLION is just the start of their LRT dream!

In fact, they are even now already spending our money on making plans for the 2nd and 3rd phases of this plan. Money they don’t have! (council rubber stamps) Mr. Watson, in interviews, says that he hopes to have money for this from different levels of government. Absolutely no mention is ever made of our role in the costs of these projects! Did we elect them asking them to do this? Have they ever consulted us?

I thought it might be interesting to try to calculate and demonstrate what 2.1 BILLION actually means. As an example, if you placed $1 dollar (a Looney) on the table every second of every day (i.e. 60 loonies a minute 3,600 an hour and so on), it would take you approximately 66.5 years of doing this to reach 2.1 BILLION. As you can see, this is our money and it represents a lot of it!!

Our Financial Future?

This election, due to this LRT project, may well represent a critical crossroads in the future of the City of Ottawa and its financial health.

Back when the north – south concept was originally being debated, council had 600 million promised by the provincial government. This money was not necessarily for this project, but for any transportation project for the City. A similar amount was eventually promised by the federal government (keeping in mind there is only one taxpayer => US). What they could have done with this money is enhance the transitway as it existed, extend the O-Train, or even provide some form of transportation for rural taxpayers, but no, they came up with this mess. (LRT derails pet projects)

Now to our most important concern. I suspect that this provincial and federal money is what is actually being used to fund the work and boring that is going on now. NEVER has this mayor or council ever been clear on how the municipal government (City) 900 million share is being funded!! (No guarantees)

In my opinion, there are three main possibilities that are happening here. The first could be that they have taken our City tax money for current infrastructure projects, not done them, and set it aside for LRT. Second, they increased City debt incurred for projects in the last 4 years, said it was for these projects, and it actually wasn’t. Finally, the most likely scenario is that they are not telling us anything until after the election, and there will be a rapid increase in taxes and City debt that is going to occur in the next several years. Never has Jim Watson and the current council ever been transparent and given any indication where our portion of this mega – project is coming from!
I very strongly fear that if this plan is not stopped in it’s “tracks” (or wires), it will only leave debts for us, our children and even our grandchildren.

Solutions

Before it is too late, I would strongly recommend a package of possible solutions. In combination, these solutions would do much move to alleviate the various transportation problems city – wide as many more people would be able to use them. In fact, combined they would actually be less costly than the LRT project and serve much more of the population. Moreover, people in the rural areas would actually finally be included in the cities Public Transportation plan.

The solutions come in two parts: (A) The following could be implemented immediately:
(1) Expand the O-Train now
(2) A small Shuttle Bus serving rural areas to OC transportation nodes.
(3) A variation of the proposal brought forward by Andy Haydon in 2010, using busing through the tunnel now being dug.

(B) The following could be developed using a “pay as you go” approach ultimately:
(1) For rural areas – develop and eventually implement a variation of the Commuter rail concept put forth by Mike Maguire during the 2010 election.
(2) For city areas – build a Mono-rail using stilts (much like the Chicago El) going along established roadways such as Carling Avenue.

* Note: For more detailed explanations of each of the above solutions please refer to: Public Transit Realism

Resources

[1](Ottawa LRT Timeline )

[2](North – South LRT a lost opportunity)

[3](LRT to create highway havoc in Ottawa)

[4](Many road closures planned for LRT build)

[5](Massive sinkhole halts Ottawa lrt tunnel)

[6](council rubber stamps)

[7](LRT derails pet projects)

[8](No guarantees)