Ottawa city council voted 19-4 on Wednesday to approve a functional design plan for the proposed light-rail transit tunnel that will connect east and west Ottawa residents with the downtown core, said Mayor Larry O’Brien.
“I think the strength of this vote sends a very, very clear message to those that would be second-guessing the entire plan,” O’Brien said. “This is a plan that has been supported by the citizens and is obviously supported by council.”
The approved plan is expected to have 13 stations between Tunney’s Pasture and Blair Road which would be connected through the downtown core by a 3.2-kilometre tunnel.
This is not the final decision on this project, but rather the approval of a functional design, said deputy city manager Nancy Schepers.
This latest step towards the development of a light-rail transit tunnel does not commit city councillors to spending the $2.1 billion that this project is expected to cost, but rather directs staff to proceed in negotiating price-sharing agreements with the federal government, said Schepers.
The provincial government has said that it will contribute $600 million for the project, and the federal government is expected to announce how much of the project it will fund by the end of the month, said Coun. Alex Cullen, the chairman of city council’s transit committee.
“The federal government finances projects and they were waiting for us to finalize our projects. Council has made its decision, and we are expecting the announcement from the federal government in a matter of weeks,” said Cullen.
“This is a very large, 30-year plan, of which we are dealing with just a portion today,” said Cullen.
Some councillors voiced concerns about security risks associated with the project, namely the safety of women in the underground transit tunnel as well as the risks of environmental contamination that could emerge as the project moves forward.
“There is a danger to the women of this city with underground tunnels,” said Coun. Diane Deans. She stressed the need for further examination of violence that could emerge in the transit tunnel, and also the need for a detailed environmental assessment to ensure that the construction sites, particularly in the LeBreton Flats area, will not be contaminated.
“I feel like there is some hurriedness in making this decision,” said Deans.
Despite some concerns, there have been at least 1,200 pieces of correspondence from Ottawa residents to city council during the planning process for this project, and these indicate 70 per cent public approval for the light-rail transit tunnel, said Schepers.
A detailed environmental assessment is scheduled to begin within the next couple of weeks and is expected to take about two years. Meanwhile, decisions on how city council will fund the portions of the project that are not covered by provincial and federal funding will take place at the next council meeting, said Cullen.
“Today is about marking a new beginning for light-rail transit in Ottawa,” said Schepers. “This is not a five-year plan, or a 10-year plan- this is a decision from which Ottawa will continue to benefit for generations.”