OTTAWA NEEDS A BRIDGE OR A PLAN? By Bob Brocklebank (Article)


Bob Brocklebank

Now that the NCC-led study on possible locations for a new bridge across the Ottawa River has decided on the Kettle Island option, all hell has broken loose.

The Mayor of Ottawa has stoutly declared that no new bridge is needed. The good folk of Manor Park are firmly opposed to a bridge in the location preferred by the consultants.

Let's step back a bit. First, is building a bridge across the Ottawa River a big deal? It's hard to imagine that it is an engineering challenge.

In a symposium at OttawaU a few years ago, Ottawa/Gatineau was compared to Saskatoon. The speaker asked why Saskatoon with about one-fifth the population of the National Capital managed to have more bridges connecting its urban area than did Ottawa/Gatineau. No, it's not an engineering issue, but rather one of politics.

And it's not just because there is a provincial boundary (and municipal boundaries as well) which cut through our urban area. Not only are there many authorities with conflicting viewpoints, the Ottawa River has for some reason become a “Berlin Wall” in the minds of some of us.

Obviously there is a problem. We have giant trucks passing through the heart of Ottawa. The King Edward/Nicholas truck corridor is a mess.

But is there a comparable problem on the Gatineau side of the river? I'm not sure that there is a problem there. The Macdonald/Cartier bridge is connected directly to a series of autoroutes. I'm not sure that the other bridges have big problems on the Quebec side of the river. The congestion is real along Island Park waiting in the evening to get on the Champlain Bridge, but once on the bridge and across into Gatineau, traffic seems to move along. Where exactly is the problem with the Chaudiere bridge or the Portage bridge or the Interprovincial bridge?

So are we dealing really with inadequate infrastructure on the Ontario side of the river rather than an “interprovincial crossing” question?

When the Macdonald-Cartier bridge was built, I understand the idea was to pipe all the traffic through New Edinburgh and onto the Vanier Parkway. The valiant New Edinburgers opposed the idea of despoiling their community and the connection was never built.

In any event, contrast the highway connections on the Quebec side of the river (installed and operational for years) with the puny connection which would have been provided even if the New Edinburgh expressway had been built. There would have been a pokey connection with stoplights at Beechwood, Montreal Road, Macarthur, Donald, Queen Mary, and Coventry before the driver of the 18-wheeler came in sight of the Queensway.

Had we built the New Edinburgh Expressway years ago, we would not only have ruined a fine neighbourhood, we would have failed to provide an adequate transportation corridor. We would be wringing our hands today about the problems of traffic from the Macdonald-Cartier bridge.

But enough of the past! What about today's idea of building a bridge to take truck traffic across a new bridge and along the Aviation Parkway?

On May 14, I sat in the bleachers as the consultants explained why the Kettle Island option is deemed best of the three under study. There was plenty of discussion about the need for an additional bridge (good question!), why the Prince of Wales bridge is not being used (fine point!), how possible widening of the highway 174 was factored into the costing for the options (valid issue!), whether trucks would be diverted from King Edward (excellent!) but little talk about how traffic from a new bridge would be handled on arriving in Ontario.

Following the consultants' presentation, the spokesman for Manor Park condemned the recommendation, branch and root. There was no equivocation; it was simply, no.

But I suspect that the folk in Manor Park care relatively little about the location of the bridge. I think their concern, and a valid concern it is, deals with the management of the traffic once it comes off the bridge and passes by their community.

On the Ontario side of the river, we need to consider how to best deal with traffic crossing the river. Simply refusing to consider a specific location for a bridge is not dealing with the issue.

On May 14, one timid soul inquired about a bridge in the west of Ottawa. She was told that idea had been put aside in earlier stages of the study. Why was it no longer in play? Because no one wants to contemplate how traffic would be received in the west end of the City.

The idea of a bridge at Kettle Island is only an idea. Even if everyone agreed, it would take years to realize. But while this concept is being considered, would it be too much to ask that we concentrate on the real issue?

Maybe no new bridge will be built in my lifetime, but the idea will not die. No matter where we build a new bridge, our problem is to accommodate the traffic as it comes into Ontario. Surely we should be discussing that real issue – how can the negative effect of such a change best be mitigated?

According to the consultants' calculation, the Kettle Island site results in a project which is 400 million dollars less expensive than the alternatives. For a 400 million dollar difference, there is plenty of mitigation work that could be done. Of course, none of the money is real; at this point the discussion involves estimates of cost.

Nevertheless it is not too early to start thinking about what would be needed to make the Kettle Island bridge idea work. Solutions might be costly and this would bolster the argument for those who continue to press for another site. But if we don't start thinking about solutions we could drift into a mess similar to the trucks on King Edward/Nicholas.

Just as a starter, how can the negative impact on Manor Park, Carson Grove etc. be managed? If the Aviation Parkway is to be totally rebuilt, what measures will be taken to protect the neighbouring communities? What sound attenuation steps should be taken? Will traffic from the new bridge be allowed to exit onto city streets such as Montreal Road or Ogilvie Road? Will the traffic be segregated from city streets through underpasses or overpasses? How will the development of the Rockcliffe airbase property be taken into account if the bridge is built?

We need to move the discussion from the question of locating a bridge to a wider debate – a debate that looks more broadly at planning for our whole urban area, that protects existing communities but also lays the foundation for future development.

Tags: Bob Brocklebank