Written by Neco Cockburn in the Ottawa Citizen.
City staff are to assess how light-rail transit can be brought to Orléans “at the earliest opportunity” by reviewing whether to invest in trains rather than buses in one of two rapid-transit corridors, says Cumberland Councillor Stephen Blais, whose bid to have options studied was approved by council last year.
The city plans to eventually extend light-rail east of Blair Road along a pair of routes: One south of Highway 174 and the other a Cumberland transit corridor that stretches along a section of Innes Road and continues south of Innes before ending east of Trim Road.
In both corridors, plans are for bus rapid transit to eventually be converted to light-rail. Buses currently run along a section of Highway 174, but there’s a protected corridor for rapid transit to the south of the highway, and there are plans to build the Cumberland Transitway along the Cumberland corridor.
Blais has argued, however, that light-rail should be the priority and it makes no sense to sink money into bus infrastructure that’s only going to be ripped up to be replaced by trains, especially with the city making strides toward light-rail with its planned $2.1-billion downtown project.
In response to his motion for staff to look at how light-rail could be brought to Orléans sooner, city staff will begin to assess the not-yet-built Cumberland Transitway and whether it makes sense to defer planned bus rapid transit there and instead pay for light-rail along the Highway 174 route, according to a memo sent to councillors Friday.
“As the implementation of this (Cumberland) corridor is scheduled as the next major transit investment in the east it will form a starting point for staff’s analysis for LRT extension,” wrote John Moser, the city’s general manager in the planning and growth management department.
If that option is found to be viable, there might be increased savings from constructing light-rail at the same time as a planned project to widen the highway from Trim Road to the split with Highway 417, Moser wrote.
Although the memo offers the most detail about that option, Blais said staff are also to look at whether money for bus rapid transit through the future Cumberland Transitway should instead be spent on light-rail for the same route, a 14.7-kilometre stretch through many growing communities.
“Both corridors work, there is no controversy over either corridor. They’re both already dedicated for segregated transit” that would eventually include light rail, said Blais, and “the real question is which one can we do fastest and cheapest, with the most benefit.”
The city’s current plans up to 2031 would see about $380 million spent on rapid transit on the east side, a big part of which involves construction of the Cumberland Transitway. That work is expected to begin in 2016, Blais said, but the rapid bus route would not be built all the way to the Millennium park-and-ride east of Trim Road until some time after 2021. Light-rail would eventually be built after that.
“That’s a lot of money and a lot of time to rip it up when we could literally build light-rail at the start,” he said.
Blais said making a choice on the corridor will involve an assessment of the effect on commute times for most residents and other factors.
While light-rail along the Highway 174 route might “spur some economic development,” leading to more jobs in Orléans, the Cumberland corridor might better serve new growth areas, he said.
“There are advantages to both.”
Information compiled by staff is to be used as councillors work on setting transportation priorities through a process that will lead to a new Transportation Master Plan in 2014. Discussions about the plan are to start this year.
As a result of council’s discussion when it approved Blais’s motion last July, staff are to conduct a similar analysis for other suburban areas, and it’s believed that “preliminary work on the Orléans LRT will help facilitate discussion and comparison city-wide,” Moser wrote.
Blais appeared pleased with the progress.
“Really, this is the first time any serious consideration to extending LRT to Orléans is being made,” he said.
“I think there’s a lot of appetite in Orléans for LRT because we want to reduce commute times, and LRT has demonstrated that it can move a significant number of people, it can move them quicker.”