David Reevely, Ottawa Citizen
The footbridge between Fifth Avenue and Clegg Street is finally being built after 110 years on the books, with a promise of $5 million in Ontario government money delivered on Friday.
Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi has spoken fondly of the Rideau Canal bridge for his entire political career but it took this long to find all the money for a span that’s been included in federal and municipal plans since early in the last century.
“If we can start the construction in 2017, it can technically be a legacy project. So happy birthday to Canada,” Naqvi joked as he made the announcement outside the Canal Ritz restaurant, where the west end of the bridge will be.
The federal government promised $10.5 million more than a year ago; the city bet that the province would come through and put the project up for bids without all the money in hand. Construction is to begin in September and the bridge should be done in two years, Mayor Jim Watson said.
Footbridges like this one used to be things Ottawa agreed to only grudgingly; the Corktown bridge across the canal squeaked through a reluctant city council in 2005 and traffic over it massively exceeded projections. The same thing happened with the Adawé footbridge over the Rideau River.
Now, said Coun. David Chernushenko, in whose Capital ward the new bridge is to be built, the question isn’t whether we should build these things, it’s where the next one is going to go and how exactly we’ll pay for it.
Right. That’s the thing.
The city estimates this bridge is a $20.5-million project — it’s crossing a particularly wide part of the canal and it’s tricky to squeeze the approaches in at either end. This is a lot of money but a trifle in transportation budgets that include, for instance, $40 million to widen nine kilometres of Highway 17 in Clarence-Rockland, $58 million to widen just 1.7 km of Greenbank Road, or $200 million-plus to widen 11 km of Highway 417.
Often we spend that kind of money to pursue fantasies of uncongested roads that all the research on such projects says we’ll never realize. Whereas a new footbridge connecting Fifth and Clegg links Lansdowne Park to Old Ottawa East, expanding Lansdowne’s market dramatically. Such a bridge was part of the Lansdowne plans until the city value-engineered it off the books for lack of interest in paying for it.
The long timelines wouldn’t be so bad if we could drag more than one of these projects along at a time, but apparently one, proceeding slowly, is the best we can do.
Meanwhile, a major east-west route we have already, or did, is cut because of last spring’s floods and will take a year to repair.
The showpiece paths on each side of the Ottawa River, behind Parliament Hill and the Canadian Museum of History, are closed until at least next spring, the National Capital Commission announced this week.
The path behind Parliament, in particular, is a great bypass for downtown streets, connecting neighbourhoods west of the core to the Rideau Canal pathway while avoiding the core itself. This is a big hit to the city’s cycling network but there’s not much that can be done, said Marc Corriveau, the commission’s director for Ontario urban lands and the Greenbelt, in a phone interview on Friday.
“Going in and doing a repair is easy. The kind of work we have in mind is much more sophisticated and complex. We want to sustain these pathways for the next 50 years,” he said. “We want to build these pathways to higher standards so that if we have a flood next year or in two or three years or in the future, this won’t happen again.”
They’ll stabilize the riverbanks, lay sturdy new beds for the paths to lie on, pave and plant to make the ground water-resistant.
Because you can’t just plop stuff in the river no matter how good your intentions are, that means closely examining the ground (results of geotechnical studies are due by the end of the month, Corriveau said), working up detailed plans, getting them approved by environmental authorities, tendering the work, actually getting started.
“It’s the end of June, we’re almost in July and we have to initiate all these processes,” Corriveau said.
All spring, he said, the NCC has been labouring mightily just to clean up the debris the floods left behind. “We’ve been doing a major cleanup over the last few weeks. If you would have seen some of the mess this created — we had wood, we had boulders, we had remnants of docks and so on.”
Here’s the kicker, though: At a rough estimate, the NCC thinks all the post-flood work it needs to do will cost around $3 million. That’s for 11 sites around its 250-km path network, including replacing the completely destroyed Lac des Fées path in Gatineau Park. Imagine if we’d done the job sooner, in an orderly way, instead of in a half-panic.
“We have to reimagine how we get around,” Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna said at the footbridge announcement. Biking is better for the environment and for fitness, and it’s way cheaper for the public treasury.
If the cheques even half kept up with the enthusiasm, we’d be much, much further ahead.