O-Train Follies

Speeding Diesel

Recently-elected Ottawa mayor Larry O’Brien and his new council narrowly decided in a vote at City Hall yesterday to alter the city’s proposed North-South light rail line. In a move to “fix, not nix” the LRT project, O’Brien and company decided to keep most of the proposed route intact, but discard the downtown stretch. As was the original plan for the old proposal, construction on the new route will begin immediately. O’Brien recommended that an Environmental Assessment begin for a rapid transit tunnel underneath the downtown core; a process that could take up to three years to complete.

Downtown Ottawa - you won't be taking the train here any time soon

Only three weeks into his new job as Mayor, multimillionaire O’Brien and the City were under legal pressure by the LRT contractors of Siemens/PCL/Dufferin to begin construction on the route. The City would have faced a minimum $60-million lawsuit had construction on the project not begun by December 15th. O’Brien said that he would use the estimated $70-million in savings from the discarded downtown alignment to improve rapid transit in other areas of the city and to move forward with the proposed East-West light rail line.

Mr. O’Brien has shown not only gross incompetence in his ability to manage large sums of public money, but also his sheer ignorance of how municipal politics work. The new downtown-less LRT line will be absent of its largest ‘pull’ factor to potential suburban commuters: a spur into the city’s business core. Additionally, transit-oriented capital projects that could have earned the city millions of dollars in investment kickbacks, such as a public-private partnership at the old proposed terminus of the line in the University of Ottawa and a commercial/transit station at the new Lebreton Flats development, were instantaneously erased upon the deciding vote at council (a vote, no less, cast by the Mayor). Construction of a downtown tunnel is expected to run upwards of $500-million, thus bringing the total potential cost of Larry’s LRT plan to $400-million more than the previously proposed route. This decision will undoubtedly bounce around council for years following the EA, meaning that a downtown light rail link might never see fruition.

Only weeks into his new job, Larry O’Brien has shown what his experiences as a corporate CEO can really bring to municipal politics.

Larry O'Brien - Businessman of the Year, 1996; Ignoramus of the Year, 2006

This entry was written by Ken Gildner , posted on Friday December 08 2006at 05:12 pm , filed under Canada, Politics, Transportation and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

4 Responses to “O-Train Follies”

  • Christopher DeWolf says:

    I had a bad feeling as soon as I saw the front page of the Citizen announcing O’Brien’s victory.

    Politically speaking, what does he have to gain from removing the downtown portion of the O-Train line?

  • I’m wondering if this move to nix the downtown portion of the project in favour of eventually having a ‘subway’ connector to U of Ottawa or Hurdman could be a positive thing in the long term? I know the Friends of the O-Train organization had what seemed to be a reasonable, albeit somewhat politically naive alternative proposal that was released during the recent municipal election campaign. I understood that O’Brien was a fan of their idea, but the subway/tunnel plan doesn’t seem to be part of the Friends of the O-Train proposal.

    There was some very sound criticism of the originally approved plan as it relates to the buses, cars and trains that would clog Albert and Slater streets. So, in this sense, maybe tweaking the plan downtown is needed.

    I’m really trying to be optimistic about the LRT situation in Ottawa as it would be sad to see the nation’s capital regress to such a provincial mindset, that is, if Council really doesn’t have the will to create a sophisticated transit network downtown. Ottawa always seems to be on the verge of becoming something more than it is. I still have hope.

  • Ken Gildner says:

    The tunnel will not be built; it is a structurally, functionally and fiscally inept option, and O’Brien advertises himself as a penny-pincher.

    I understand the criticism towards the Albert/Slater corridor, but bus traffic on those streets would have been curtailed to accommodate the LRT line. All things considered, they would have been able to fit more commuters into fewer vehicles by using LRT along the proposed downtown axis.

    Hopefully a land route through downtown is not totally dead. An EA for the tunnel might reveal that the old proposal is in fact the most feasible one. There are also still options within the city’s Rapid Transit Expansion Study of 2003 to route the LRT down either Sparks or Queen Streets.

  • Christopher DeWolf says:

    A tunnel would of course be ideal — Edmonton had the right idea in the late 1970s (!) when it built is downtown subway, despite being, at the time, about the same size as London, ON is now — but I would agree with Ken that O’Brien is an unlikely person to pick up the half-billion dollar tab (which will increase quite a bit over the next three years) if he isn’t even willing to spent $70-something million on the downtown surface LRT.

    Calgary’s LRT runs along 7th Avenue through downtown, along with buses. It works, although it will be inevitable that, sometime in the future, a subway will be built to alleviate the pressure. For the time being, though, new, longer platforms and more efficient signalling allow the downtown corridor to function smoothly as the spine of a train system that carries 250,000 riders per day.