Ottawa’s Prince of Wales bridge will never be used for trains; city seeks $10 million for pedestrian/cycling crossing

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Ottawa Gatineau mayors at bridge
Ottawa Jim Watson and Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin  at the Prince of Wales Bridge

Ontario Construction News staff writer

The City of Ottawa will never use the Prince of Wales bridge for an interprovincial transit crossing, a decision likely influenced by the federal cabinet’s decision in April to quash a proposal by a private consortium to use the bridge as part of a regional commuter train service.

Now it is seeking $10 million in federal funds to turn the bridge into a pedestrian and cycling crossing.

Originally the city had purchased the old rail line and bridge to connect it with Gatineau’s rail system, but no date was set for this rail link to commence.

The bridge, originally opened in 1880, is run-down and the city has set barricades to prevent pedestrians and cyclists from crossing the currently unsafe structure.

Then, the MOOSE (Mobility Ottawa-Outaouais: Systems and Enterprises) Consortium announced it would like to start its own rail service, connecting communities as far away as Smiths Falls and Wakefield, using the bridge as a key transfer point.

The business planned to require the city, under arcane interprovincial rail regulations, to make the tracks available for the private service by paying the city a fee for “running rights”. The organization interpreted federal rules that would allow it negotiate to purchase or lease rights to use the bridge at salvage rates if the city decided to end plans for rail operations over the bridge.

MOOSE had proposed funding the anticipated $50 million renovation costs to make the bridge functional for trains and pedestrians/cyclists through private sources, based on fees paid by station operators in eastern Ontario and Western Quebec, which would see property values rise near the stations.

However, even as the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) ruled last year in favour of MOOSE when the operator asserted that the city had illegally torn up the rail lines while constructing the Bayview LRT station, the federal cabinet intervened and made it clear that running rights provisions for a rail line discontinuance relate to goods rather than passenger traffic, and that railroads could make accommodations such as trucking or marine services when it discontinued railways.

At Tuesday’s press conference on the bicycling path near the bridge, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin said they want $10 million in federal funds to rehabilitate the bridge for pedestrian and cycling use. The mayors were there to announce a survey of federal election candidates on issues important to the municipalities, including transit.

Watson said he didn’t think MOOSE could raise an issue now about the decision to completely end any rail plans for the bridge.
“The (federal) cabinet was very clear,” he said. “As I’ve said many times, MOOSE has no track record in running railways. We don’t take it as a serious organization”.

Gatineau’s transit agency, the Société de transport de l’Outaouais (STO), indicated earlier this year that the Prince of Wales Bridge wouldn’t meet Gatineau’s transit needs, though the bridge could be a “secondary” interprovincial crossing, since it’s embedded in Ottawa’s ultimate transit plan.

However, Watson said staff analyzed using the bridge for the Trillium Line to connect to Gatineau’s Rapibus system and determined that transit transfers through the bridge link would overwhelm Bayview Station.

“Our staff came back and said that even though many years ago this (bridge) was bought by a previous council with the intention of running the O Train, they recognize it would be far too congested to have so many people drop off at one of the busiest intersections in our LRT system,” Watson said.

The City of Ottawa bought the Trillium Line corridor, plus the bridge, in 2005 from the Canadian Pacific Railway Company for about $11 million. A 2004 council report authorizing the transaction put the land value of the bridge at $399,000, the Ottawa Citizen has reported.

“The return on investment is, it allows us to open up a new active transportation corridor for cyclists and pedestrians to connect from our train station, across the bridge and into the city of Gatineau,” Watson said.

Watson said he doesn’t think it’s necessary for the federal government to take over the bridge. The City of Ottawa “is quite happy to take on the responsibility of maintenance,” he said.

Gatineau now believes the best place for its interprovincial rail transit point would be the more centrally located Portage Bridge. However, it is unclear how passengers would transfer from the Portage bridge to Ottawa’s LRT system, which is underground in the downtown area.

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