Mayor wants to fund Barrhaven LRT evaluation
With Stage 1 under construction, Watson preparing for suburban expansion
Make room, Kanata. Barrhaven has become part the conversation for a Stage 3 LRT extension.
Up until Wednesday, Mayor Jim Watson had consistently positioned Kanata as the obvious next stop for LRT once the first two stages of light rail are constructed.
But the mayor, who’s also running for re-election in the October municipal vote, said on Wednesday it will be up to a future council to decide which suburb will be next to receive rail service, potentially leaving the other community with a serious case of train envy.
“What we’re doing now is we’re saying that we want to be ready for both proposals, both Barrhaven and Kanata,” Watson said, adding that he previously called Kanata the Stage 3 priority because the city had not yet done a study for Barrhaven LRT.
At a council meeting on June 27, Watson will ask for support to spend property tax money on a study that would determine how LRT could be extended from Algonquin College to Barrhaven, linking up with the rest of the Confederation Line network. The mayor’s motion is backed by Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder, who won support last March to start studying the feasibility of extending LRT to Barrhaven.
Of course, the city hasn’t even finished building Stage 1 — the 12.5-kilometre LRT line between Tunney’s Pasture and Blair station, through a downtown tunnel — or started construction of Stage 2, which will extend LRT to Moodie Drive, Trim Road and Algonquin College, plus extend the Trillium Line to the Ottawa International Airport and Riverside South.
Under the city’s transportation master plan, a Stage 3 LRT expansion wouldn’t happen until after 2031. The council elected on Oct. 22 will have the option of updating the master plan.
The Barrhaven conundrum has become glaringly obvious as the other suburbs are either on track for LRT or have been studied for a rail extension.
Bringing LRT to Barrhaven would mean converting the current rapid-bus route to rail, likely requiring underpasses or overpasses at intersections. An environmental assessment would provide the construction options and costs.
The city would begin the environmental assessment this fall and the study would take between one to two years.
The environmental assessment would cost about $1 million. The city would like the other levels of government to help pay for the study, but Watson said the city can also complete the study with only municipal money if it has to. Watson has so far identified $336,000 in development charges and $234,000 from the transit capital reserve to help pay for the study.
In a perfect world, the city will one day have the financial means to extend LRT to Kanata and Barrhaven at the same time.
Kanata has a short-term leg-up, since an environmental assessment was recently completed, confirming that a rail line between Moodie Road and Hazeldean Road would cost about $1.85 billion. The federal Liberals covered half the cost of the Kanata LRT study.
It’s possible that council will eventually have to decide which suburb will get LRT first: Kanata or Barrhaven.
“The new council will have to determine based on the information we get back from the environmental assessment which is the most ready to break ground in,” Watson said. “I have to be clear about this: we don’t have commitment from the federal and provincial governments for anything above and beyond Phase 2. We want to be ambitious and we want to make sure all parts of the city are served and that’s why this motion is forward and I believe there will be strong support on council for it.”
Watson has also said refurbishing the Prince of Wales Bridge, the old rail crossing over the Ottawa River, would also be part of a Stage 3 project.
Politically, the stars might be aligning for Barrhaven.
The federal riding of Nepean is represented by Liberal MP Chandra Arya. Watson met this week with PC MPP Lisa MacLeod, who will represent the riding of Nepean in the Doug Ford provincial government. She’s also a candidate for becoming a senior minister for this region.
“She knows the file well and certainly she told me it’s also a priority for her because Barrhaven is an area of the city with the largest growth, but no access to light rail,” Watson said.
However, Kanata has its own political clout, being served by representatives who are in government power. The Liberal MP is Karen McCrimmon and the MPP-elect is the PC’s Merrilee Fullerton.
Ottawa city council will eventually have to decide which suburb will be the first to get LRT service. “We want to be ready for both proposals, both Barrhaven and Kanata,” Mayor Jim Watson said.