Proposed footbridge between Glebe and Old Ottawa East example of 'better way,' says councillor

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By Neco Cockburn, Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — A $17.5-million pedestrian and cyclist bridge over the Rideau Canal is needed in the community and should be assessed in the context of city goals to link different areas and get people out of their cars, says the area's councillor.

Ultimately, the city is trying with a potential bridge connecting the Glebe and Old Ottawa East between Fifth Avenue and Clegg Street to create "an active transportation network" where fewer people feel they need to use vehicles and money can be saved on more expensive transportation infrastructure like roads, said Capital Councillor David Chernushenko.

The bridge would be built at what's seen as a natural crossing point for people, the midway point of a two-kilometre stretch between Bank Street and the Pretoria Bridge. A new bridge would also make it easier for people to reach a redeveloped Lansdowne Park, which councillors have supported, Chernushenko said, so some of the cost could be looked at in light of that project.

There's no other crossing nearby, Chernushenko said, and the Pretoria Bridge is complicated by several lanes and various turning patterns. Although bicycles and pedestrians can cross there, they often feel uncomfortable, he said. That discomfort is evident from the large number of bicycles on the sidewalk instead of the road, and many cyclists also choose to take the sidewalk over the Bank Street Bridge, he said.

Available land on either side of the canal offered tight quarters for the bridge's designers, who must also live up to criteria under the canal's UNESCO World Heritage designation. The preferred option would begin just north of the Canal Ritz restaurant, curve east over the canal and land on a switchback ramp on the east side, beside Colonel By Drive.

City staff aren't asking for funding at this point, though the price of the bridge recently became public. In November, they expect to present councillors with results of the environmental assessment that will document the need and justification for a bridge at that location, as well as its general design elements, said Colin Simpson, senior project manager for transportation planning at the city.

They'd eventually need about $2 million for detailed design work that would take about a year, Simpson said, but it's not known at this point when that funding will be recommended in a budget.

After the detailed design work, the project would be ready for construction whenever funding is secured — some of it potentially through federal sources or development charges, Simpson said. Building the bridge would take two full construction seasons.

The last bridge the city built over the canal, the Corktown Footbridge, connects Centretown to Sandy Hill and cost $7 million in 2006. It's seen as a success, heavily used by people on both sides of the canal.

The new bridge is about twice as long, including its ramps, with less ramping built on soil and more on a structure, making it more expensive, Simpson said.

Chernushenko said he would want to see if there's a slightly cheaper way to construct a bridge, while acknowledging that it's important to build something that looks good in addition to being functional, since it would be around for decades to come.

Opportunities to remove elements or make changes for cost-saving purposes would come as part of the detailed design work, Simpson said.

Even at a time when the city is under pressure to maintain its existing aging infrastructure — with staff calling for annual spending on upkeep to more than double, to $165 million — the city government can't simply focus on that in isolation, Chernushenko said.

"We do have a responsibility to keep in good repair our existing infrastructure, but the city doesn't come to a stop doing that. You have to look forward to better ways of moving people and goods, and this is very much an example of a better way," he said.

Some councillors weren't sure the city can afford to build a new footbridge, at least in the next little while.

"We have an awful lot of maintenance work we have to do in looking after what we already have," said Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson, chair of council's transportation committee.

"I think the bridge will get built some time, but whether it's right away or not is the other question," she said.

Orléans Councillor Bob Monette, the committee's vice-chair, said a new pedestrian bridge "would be nice to have, but we can't afford it right now."

The city has other, more important priorities such as keeping up with existing infrastructure, Monette said.

The National Capital Commission and Parks Canada would also have to approve any final plans. An open house on the project so far is set for Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Glebe Community Centre.

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