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Feds move to study Ottawa-Gatineau tram possibilities, give job to NCC

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The federal Liberal government is on board with trying to centralize planning for some interprovincial public transit in the capital region, while reasserting its intention to build a new bridge between Ottawa and Gatineau.

The federal budget announced on Monday says two offices will be created to manage transportation between the two cities, with a special transit office established at the National Capital Commission looking specifically at potential tramway connections.

That’s potentially huge news for people calling for the creation of a transit “loop” between Ottawa and Gatineau using the interprovincial bridges.

The Friends of the Loop has been advocating for attention on the idea to connect the two downtowns with a single transit system, an idea that has been around for two decades but never pushed forward on any government agenda.

The budget calls for the NCC-located project office “to study and plan for potential interprovincial tramway connections between Ottawa and Gatineau, in addition to consulting and collaborating with municipal, provincial, and transportation partners.”

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One of the cities is providing the catalyst for an interprovincial rail system.

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The City of Gatineau and the Société de transport de l’Outaouais are working on a major transit project that would run a rail line from west Gatineau to the Portage Bridge, and then over the crossing into downtown Ottawa. It could effectively form one part of a transit loop connecting the two downtowns.

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Gatineau has identified two options to run a tram through Ottawa: on the surface of Wellington Street to Elgin Street, or in a tunnel under Sparks Street.

The Wellington Street option has a high-level estimate of about $3 billion. The Sparks Street tunnel option is estimated between $3.532 billion and $3.899 billion.

The NCC board in January signalled its preference for a tram running on Wellington Street, while the City of Ottawa last year leaned toward the Sparks Street tunnel option because of the cramped corridor on Wellington Street for multiple modes of transportation. The City of Ottawa isn’t paying into Gatineau’s transit project.

The other interprovincial crossing that could provide the second link for a loop is the Alexandra Bridge, which the NCC is studying for replacement.

The CEO of the NCC, Tobi Nussbaum, has observed that a number of ongoing transportation projects happening at once, including an interprovincial transportation study, could provide the prime opportunity for long-term planning.

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At the same time, the federal government is still interested in pursuing a new bridge connecting Ottawa and Gatineau.

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The budget announced on Monday carves out a project office at Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), working with the NCC, specifically to address the need for a new interprovincial crossing.

The government assigned bridge work to the NCC through the 2019 federal budget, asking the agency to review previously halted studies that suggested a crossing over Kettle Island was the best location for a sixth interprovincial bridge.

While the federal budget aims to establish the new project offices, there was no extra funding identified for the offices at PSPC and the NCC.

The NCC is also poised to receive more financial help to maintain its assets.

The budget earmarks $35 million, spread evenly over five years, for the agency to acquire and upkeep federal assets, green infrastructure and spaces in the capital region.

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