Calling the vote a historic moment for the city, Mayor Jim Watson and the rest of city council voted unanimously in favour of a $2.13-billion contract to build a light-rail system.
The Dec. 19 vote marks Ottawa’s growth into a truly “big city,” said Alta Vista councillor and planning committee chairman Peter Hume.
“We’re about to graduate to a big city,” Hume said during the Dec. 19 council meeting.
Other councillors, including transit commission chairwoman and Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, said it is votes like this that remind her of the weight of her office.
“There are few days in the life of a municipal politician that mean this much,” Deans said. “We are changing the direction of the city’s future.”
The 12.5-kilometre east-west rail system, dubbed Confederation Line, will connect Tunney’s Pasture and Blair Road and include a tunnel downtown between Bronson Avenue and east of the Rideau Centre.
The only new information about the project was the chosen construction consortium’s commitment to double the number of bicycle parking spaces to 600. The additional 300 spaces will not be weather protected, but 240 of the original planned spaces will have protection from the elements.
Councillors criticized the small number of planned bike parking spaces when they debated the project as committee of the whole on Dec. 12.
“We understand the importance of cycling amenities in this city and we hope that this gesture will be well received by Ottawa cycling advocates, Ottawa city council and the general public,” a letter from the Rideau Transit Group consortium reads.
Local advocacy group Citizens for Safe Cycling did not respond to a request for comment before this newspaper’s deadline.
The consortium and city staff have also said they would ensure space is identified for future bike-parking expansions, as necessary. Kitchissippi Coun. Katherine Hobbs also asked for a review of cyclist and pedestrian safety for roads that will be used as bus-detour routes when the bus Transitway is being converted to a rail line to the east and west of downtown.
Rideau Transit Group’s quick action on council’s bike-parking criticism is a good sign for the companies’ working relationship with the city, said Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli.
Orleans Coun. Bob Monette said he was happy to support the light-rail contract even though his ward’s residents will have to wait for a later phase before the trains come to them.
“You have to start somewhere,” Monette said. “We need to rectify the downtown core before we go elsewhere. You cannot build a transportation network without building the foundation.”
Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes, whose ward will be home to the tunnel and four of the stations, said it is essential that the city move quickly to give Queen Street a facelift, as envisioned in a study called Downtown Moves. The tunnel will run under Queen Street, so many transit users are expected to flood that street when they emerge from the underground stations, and the sidewalks and street must be able to handle that, Holmes said.
Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury made a similar request about funding and options for streetscaping the section of Rideau Street between Sussex Drive and Dalhousie, where the Rideau station will be.
Holmes also formally requested that staff investigate the possibility of a covered pedestrian connection between the Ottawa Convention Centre/Rideau Centre and the National Arts Centre at Confederation Square. Informal discussions about the link have been ongoing.
Fleury was interested in pedestrian and cycling connections to Rideau and Campus light-rail stations, since the current Laurier Transitway station between those two locations will no longer be served by rapid transit after Confederation line begins operating in 2018.
Construction and tunnel digging will start next year.