Canada

Sixth bridge won’t solve downtown truck problems, NCC report says

“To achieve greater reductions and better manage goods movement, more measures will be required.”

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Getting trucks out of downtown Ottawa will take more than building a new bridge over the Ottawa River, warns a draft report from the National Capital Commission on the plan for a new interprovincial crossing.

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“Building a new crossing would divert some heavy truck demand, however, there would still be a significant volume of heavy trucks in the core,” said the report released Tuesday.

A new bridge in the east end crossing at Kettle Island would only divert about 15 per cent of the truck traffic currently using the King Edward-Rideau-Waller-Nicolas route, the report said. A bridge in the west end would only reduce it by eight per cent.

“To achieve greater reductions and better manage goods movement, more measures will be required,” the report said: for example changing truck routes or current “logistics practices.”

But it is clear that something must be done if the National Capital Region is to avoid interprovincial gridlock by 2050.

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“Based on the existing conditions and anticipated conditions, if current trends hold, the NCR with face significant transportation challenges in 2050 if no action is taken,” the report said.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury has long lobbied for a solution to the noisy, dirty and dangerous truck traffic that lumbers through his ward every day.

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“You just have to stand at the corner of Waller and Rideau and you’ll see how scary it is,” Fleury said.

In 2014, the city commissioned a feasibility study for a tunnel to carry car and truck traffic across the river. But, with changes in government federally and provincially, the idea has gone nowhere.

“At some point we have to ask, ‘Do they ever plant to build a bridge? Yes or no? And if they do, where is it going to be located?’” Fleury said.

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“People are tired of studies, particularly on the bridge and truck issues. If it’s something that’s recommended, then they want it funded. And, if it’s not, then leave it and move on.”

The NCC report says all five bridges are already at or above capacity during morning rush hour and warns the problem is only getting worse. Some 51,000 trips are made across the river each day, with the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge being the busiest, carrying 36 per cent of all traffic.

Population growth is outpacing job growth in Gatineau, while Ottawa is adding more jobs than people, which will only mean more congestion on the bridges, the report said. Overall population and employment in the NCR are expected to grow by 40 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively, by 2050.

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“This could result in a 50-per-cent increase in number of people travelling between the provinces,” the report noted.

But much has changed in just the few years since the NCC was pushing to build a sixth crossing in Ottawa’s east end. While work-from-home during the pandemic has reduced commuter traffic, the rise of delivery services like Amazon and Uber Eats has put more vehicles on the road. And, while public transit use is up along with “active transportation” — walking and bicycling — it won’t be enough to ease congestion.

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One suggestion the report does say bears examining is a regional body to oversee transportation planning and get all levels of government — federal, provincial and municipal — onside. Regional transportation governance is already in place in cities like Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal.

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Regional governance “would provide opportunities to further expand collaboration and coordination while potentially taking a greater role in the planning, construction and delivery of infrastructure,” the report said. “This warrants further study and discussion to create a ‘Made in the NCR’ solution.”

Mike Trudeau, chair of the Manor Park Community Association Bridge Committee, said he was encouraged to see the report maintain a new bridge wouldn’t solve the truck problem.

“I think the study makes it pretty clear that there is not a compelling case for a $2-billion bridge to funnel the truck traffic through Manor Park,” Trudeau said. “That’s not going to solve the problem, while at the same time creating a whole new tranche of problems fo the community of Manor Park.”

The NCC is accepting public submissions on the report online. Links to the report and the public survey can be found at ncc-ccn.gc.ca

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