Truck-diverting tunnel falls off election radar screen
The next city council will decide how serious it is about diverting most transport truck traffic off downtown Ottawa streets using a truck-diverting tunnel between Highway 417 and Gatineau.But a potential $2-billion tunnel with unknown funding sources has made only a ripple in the municipal election campaign, leaving the debate at the community level rather than building a citywide discussion about a such a massive infrastructure project.With the election set for Monday, debates about large-scale construction to this point have centred on expanding LRT.The central-east ward of RideauVanier has the most at stake when it comes to downtown truck traffic. A truck route cuts through the Lowertown community, making Rideau Street and King Edward Avenue a precarious travel zone for pedestrians and cyclists.Mathieu Fleury, the incumbent councillor in Rideau-Vanier, supports moving forward with a major study on a truck tunnel.So far, the city has a finished feasibility study that confirms a tunnel is possible.The major study would be an environmental assessment, which Fleury said would cost $12 million. The hope is that all three levels of government would fund the work.Fleury said the city would need to lock down a previously anticipated $4 million from the province for the study. With a change in government and the Progressive Conservatives keen on cutting costs and reducing the provincial deficit, the city could be stonewalled.“We have to regroup in the next few weeks to reconfirm their commitments,” Fleury said. The province has a duty to connect 400-series highways to interprovincial links, he said, so a tunnel would be a “provincial” tunnel, not a city tunnel, Fleury said.A truck tunnel would be a replacement project for an additional interprovincial bridge. The bridge project was scuttled in 2013 when the Ontario Liberal government wouldn’t support a new eastend crossing at Kettle Island amid growing concerns that truck traffic would be diverted to communities east of Ottawa’s downtown.Left with the problem of transport trucks snaking through downtown Ottawa streets, the city succeeded in partnering with the province on a feasibility study for a truck tunnel between Highway 417 and an existing bridge to Gatineau.The most feasible tunnel route would have Quebec-bound trucks exit Highway 417 at the Vanier Parkway and enter the tunnel, which would be under Sandy Hill and Lowertown, and end at the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge, linking up with Quebec’s Highway 5. The study estimated more than 25,000 vehicles would use the 3.4-kilometre tunnel each day, with 1,700 trucks using it each work day. Under the preliminary plan, the tunnel would be open to regular passenger vehicles, too.City council left the debate in 2016 with a 21-2 vote advocating for an environmental assessment.Other candidates in the RideauVanier ward election question if a tunnel is the actually the answer to the truck problem.Ward challenger Thierry Harris said residents with whom he’s spoken don’t believe a tunnel would be constructed, even though the preliminary exploratory work is done.“People are not convinced a tunnel is a realistic option,” Harris said. “They’re skeptical about politicians saying it’s going to happen.”Harris said the city should pursue traffic-calming measures in the downtown corridor, but he’s particularly interested in re-opening the discussion about adding an interprovincial bridge between Ottawa and Gatineau. He’s also interested in banning some trucks from the downtown interprovincial corridor.Matt Lowe, another ward candidate, thinks the idea of a truck tunnel would distract decisionmakers from larger issues in the ward, such as bus service and the Salvation Army’s shelter relocation to Vanier. Those are the matters Rideau-Vanier residents care most about, Lowe said.The ward’s fourth candidate, Salar Changiz, couldn’t be reached for comment. jwill[email protected]media.com twitter.com/JonathanWilling
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