Any future light rail plans must consider Gatineau, said the city’s Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin.
While Ottawa formally voted on entering into discussions around the Prince of Wales Bridge on March 8, discussions have been going on behind the scenes for quite some time, Pedneaud-Jobin said.
“One of the first conversations I had with Mayor (Jim) Watson after he was elected was about public transit,” he said.
Pedneaud-Jobin was elected in 2013.
Last year, the two cities had a couple of meetings that included the mayors, heads of transit and transportation committees, and the city managers in charge of transit.
“It’s the first time that’s ever happened,” Pedneaud-Jobin said.
The biggest problem they see is the two cities build their transit systems separately, then try to make them fit, when they should be planning transit together.
“It seems self-evident that we would build a regional transit system,” he said. “They’ve invested billions and we’ve invested hundreds of millions.”
The problem is, the pot of money comes from different places.
“Priority for spending is done in Quebec (City),” Pedneaud-Jobin said. “Even at the federal level, so it can be difficult to work together.”
Whatever the challenges, Pedneaud-Jobin favours looking at a rail crossing at the Prince of Wales Bridge.
There are 60,000 people that cross the bridges between Ottawa and Gatineau every day, Pedneaud-Jobin said.
“Gatineau must fit in somewhere,” he said of Ottawa’s plans for public transit.
When discussing the Stage 2 LRT alignment and procurement plan prior to council approval, transit commission chair Stephen Blais did say that stage 3 could look to Gatineau.
Blais said while councillors and residents have made cases for Barrhaven and Kanata, the locations don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
“We’d didn’t think we’d be able to expand into Riverside South or Orléans,” he said of Stage 2.
An interprovincial report by the National Capital Commission in 2013 recommended the extension of the O-Train across the Prince of Wales bridge to better integrate transit between the two downtown cores.
Watson also pitched the idea again at the last NCC board meeting in January. He told the board of directors that the intent of purchasing it several years ago was to convert it to a rail bridge.
The bridge would connect the O-Train to the Taché Station of Gatineau’s Rapibus system.
The city’s numbers show that just converting the bridge for pedestrian use would cost $10.5 million.
The estimate for converting the bridge for rail would be anywhere from $20 to $40 million.
For his part, anytime he’s got a meeting on the other side of the river, the Gatineau mayor takes the bus.
As for his staff, three of four cycle, walk or use public transit to get to work.
Gatineau is also considering rail as they extend the western leg of their Rapibus system to help alleviate congestion in areas like Aylmer.
“Nearly two-thirds of the growth in Gatineau comes from Aylmer,” Pedneaud-Join said, adding that it’s also the suburb that has the highest concentration of people that commute to work.
Pedneaud-Jobin has been calling for rail since he took office.
“We don’t want to build Rapibus and then have to pull it all up again,” he said, adding the Rapibus system was always meant to be a transitional technology.
“The density might be low for rail,” he said. “But some parts of the region have hit that level.”
To top it off, municipal governments must strike while the iron is hot, Pedneaud-Jobin said.
“There’s never been more money for transit at the federal level,” he said, adding that Hull-Aylmer MP Greg Fergus supports the plan for the Prince of Wales Bridge.