Overview: Since the Macdonald-Cartier bridge was constructed in 1967 King Edward Ave, Rideau, and Waller streets have become a major interprovincial truck route. This has had significant negative impacts along this corridor and on the adjacent communities. Over the decades since multiple different initiatives were attempted to come to a solution to this problem all yielding little in the way of results. Action Sandy Hill considers this to be one of the most serious unresolved transportation issues in the City of Ottawa and is continually active together with counterparts from Lowertown Community Association in meeting with elected representatives at all 3 levels of government to lobby for action towards resolving this problem.
A Brief History
In the early ‘90s a detailed engineering study (named JACPAT) conducted by the NCC and the Ottawa-Carleton regional government concluded that a new bridge would be required by 2010 and the best location would be at Aviation Parkway/Kettle Island/Montée Paiement.
Vanier Parkway Extension: Later on the late 90’s, an extension was proposed of the Vanier Parkway through New Edinburgh to funnel trucks and cars to and from the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge rather than routing them through the King Edward/Rideau downtown route. Lobbying and opposition from residents in that area resulted in this roadway link eventually being removed from Ottawa’s Official Plan. Downtown communities appealed this removal decision to the OMB. The OMB upheld the original decision to remove this link from the Official Plan and stated that a new bridge should be built at Kettle Is instead.
East End Interprovincial Bridge Ph 1 Study: In 2007 the NCC, the Province of Ontario and the Province of Quebec launched another comprehensive study to determine where a new interprovincial crossing should be built. Fourteen options were evaluated at twelve locations (both east and west of downtown). The NCC elected not to move forward with any options other than an additional Ottawa River vehicular crossing in the east only. In 2009 the NCC concluded the best location was the Aviation Parkway/Kettle Island/Montée Paiement corridor.
East End Interprovincial Bridge Ph 2 Study: Following public pressure the Ph1 study was deemed incomplete and a more detailed study was conducted from 2010 to 2013 to compare the three previously highest-ranked locations for a bridge. In 2013 the conclusion was once again that a new bridge should be built at Aviation Parkway/Kettle Island/Montée Paiement. The study also revealed some additional details. It would spread the truck problem to additional communities and there was no certainty that it would lead to the removal of the majority of trucks from the King-Edward, Rideau, Waller and Nicolas (KERWN) corridor. Estimates at the time were that the number of trucks diverted to a new bridge would be about 40% of the trucks on the King Edward Corridor. It would also have a negative impact on public transit ridership, both in Ottawa and Gatineau.
The Province of Ontario, again under public pressure, withdrew at this point from further participation in this Study. Shortly after, the Province of Quebec withdrew its participation, and finally the NCC ended the effort. The downtown truck problem remained unresolved yet again.
Downtown Tunnel: Later in 2013, the City of Ottawa and the Province of Ontario agreed to a new initiative by co-funding a $750,000 engineering feasibility study for a downtown tunnel to connect Highway 417 to the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge (not a tunnel under the Ottawa River).
In August 2016 the Study results were released. This Study examined several possible routes for a 417 to Macdonald-Cartier bridge tunnel and concluded that a tunnel was technically feasible. The recommended route for a tunnel would locate its southern portal near the Vanier Parkway at Coventry Rd and continue under the Rideau River, East Sandy Hill, East Lowertown with the northern portal at the southern end of the Macdonald-Cartier bridge.
The proposed tunnel would be 3.4km long, would in fact be 2 separate tunnels (one for each direction of travel), with 2 lanes in each tunnel. The cost was estimated at between 1.7B$ and 2.0B$ (2015$). It was estimated that if the tunnel existed in 2016 that it would carry approximately 1700 trucks and 20,000-25,000 cars per day. During the peak afternoon period the car traffic would approach 1400 vehicles per hour and a forecast was made that this would increase to 2500 vehicles per hour by 2031. Unfortunately the Study did not provide any forecast for how much additional truck traffic the tunnel would carry by 2031.
Ottawa City Council on Sep 14, 2016 voted 21-2 to set aside 2.5m$ in the 2017 budget for a detailed environmental assessment (EA) for this tunnel and commissioned the Mayor to approach the provincial and federal governments to also contribute to the funding of the EA on a 1/3 basis.
Update – Nov 2018: The 2014-2018 Provincial Liberal government committed their 1/3 share of funding towards the Tunnel Environmental Assessment. Since this government was defeated by a Conservative government in Jun 2018 it is unclear the current status of that funding commitment. No commitment has been forthcoming from the Federal government for its 1/3 share of funding. Meetings are ongoing by ASH representatives with both levels of government.
Update – 2020: After several years of lack of action towards securing a funding contribution by the Federal Government as well as a change in Government after the next Ontario election, the City of Ottawa re-allocated the 2.5m$ it had set aside in it’s budget and all efforts towards an Environmental Assessment for a downtown tunnel were abandoned.
Update – 2022: The 2020 Federal budget commissioned and funded the NCC to conduct another study of Interprovincial Transportation. This study referred to as the LTIIC (Long Term Interprovincial Integrated Crossings Study) was to take a broader look at the long term transportation needs (out to 2050) and the full set of transportation options available (transit, active transportation, tunnel, bridges) and to recommend a framework for moving forward for long term interprovincial transportation planning decisions in the National Capital Region. ASH participated in several rounds of public consultations for this Study and the final report was ratified by the NCC board in Jan 2022.
The LTIIC Study recommended that a new transit link be constructed as planned across the river from West Gatineau into downtown Ottawa. The Study also recommended further consideration of a ‘transit loop’ between the two downtowns and forecast that a new bridge across the Ottawa River would be needed in the long term. Due to the disruption of the 2020-2022 Covid pandemic the report could not recommend a timeframe when such a bridge would be needed and instead focused on establishing a formal data gathering initiative to more closely track changes in interprovincial travel trends for cars and trucks.
This recommended set of actions offered no potential of any change to the 50+ year old problem of interprovincial trucks snaking their way through the Sandy Hill and Lowertown neighbourhoods.