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Ottawa light-rail construction one vote away

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by Korky Koroluk last update:Sep 25, 2014

With the unveiling of a voluminous staff report on Ottawa’s light-rail transit plans on Dec. 5, city council is now just one vote away from launching the biggest, most expensive construction project in the city’s history
Bayview Station in the proposed Ottawa light-rail plan will be a two-level station that is the junction between the new east-west Confederation Line and the existing north-south O-Train line. Ottawa city council is set to vote on the transit plan report on Dec. 19.
Bayview Station in the proposed Ottawa light-rail plan will be a two-level station that is the junction between the new east-west Confederation Line and the existing north-south O-Train line. Ottawa city council is set to vote on the transit plan report on Dec. 19. - Photo: Rideau Transit Group and City of Ottawa

The job will go to a consortium of firms called the Rideau Transit Group, one of three consortia that had been short-listed earlier.

City council will discuss the report at a committee-of-the-whole meeting on Dec. 12, and the final vote is scheduled for another meeting on Dec. 19.

The result is a foregone conclusion. The unveiling on Dec. 5 was a theatrical affair, with music, fancy lighting effects, and a host of dignitaries, including two former mayors, and federal and provincial politicians, including Premier Dalton McGinty.

Mayor Jim Watson is unlikely to have laid on such an elaborate presentation if there was the slightest possibility that the Dec. 19 vote might fail.

In a nutshell, the project is a 12.5-kilometre light-rail line with 13 stations, including three in a 2.5-kilometre tunnel under the downtown core.

The total cost is $2.13 billion, with the federal and provincial governments contributing $600 million each. Work on the project will begin in February, and be completed in time for testing followed by full revenue service in May 2018.

The winning consortium, led by Toronto-based ACS Infrastructure, includes engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, construction company EllisDon Corp., Dragados Canada, Veolia Transportation Services and BBB Architects of Ottawa.

Figures flew thick and fast at the Dec. 5 unveiling. Watson said the line — dubbed the Confederation Line — will provide more than 3,200 person-years of direct trades employment. Counting spin-off jobs, he said more than 20,000 person-years of employment will result.

The line will — except for the tunnel — be built along the existing bus transitway route, and run from Tunney’s Pasture in the west to Blair Station in the east. Years ago, when the transitway was being planned, the possibility of converting it to light-rail one day was taken into consideration. As a result there will have to be little, if any, re-engineering of grades or curves.

But there will be disruptions, because buses will have to be rerouted, some of them onto new lanes along Highway 417, which, known locally as the Queensway, runs east-west across the city.

Construction of those lanes is scheduled to begin in February, and will be the first visible part of the project.

Disruption during tunneling under the downtown core will be minimal because there will be no cut-and-cover construction. Instead, the tunneling will be done by sophisticated new mining equipment using three entry points: the east and west portals where the line goes underground, at a single central shaft.

The staff report says that the underground work will be “nearly undetectable at surface level. The necessity for replacing a watermain under Queen Street will lead to some surface disruption, the report says, as will the construction of ventilation shafts.

Still, the report says, “day-to-day life” on the surface will continue as normal without appreciable change as mining goes on under the roadway.

The consortium’s methods will keep excess excavated material to a minimum by re-using as much as possible. Where possible, mined material will be used elsewhere on the project, and special material-handling sites will be constructed to manage the flow.

The consortium’s sustainability plan allows for the recycling of 75 per cent of excavated rock, equivalent to 285,000 cubic metres, to be used as base and sub-base material during construction of the system’s tracks.

The tunneling is scheduled to begin in July and be finished by October, 2017.

The Highway 417 widening is one of two things due to start in February. The other is the maintenance and storage facility, which will be built by the Ottawa Train Yards, close to the LRT’s Train Station.

There, a minimum of 75 per cent of demolition, excavation and construction debris will be diverted from landfills by separating materials on-site.

The maintenance building will be designed to meet LEED Canada-NC Certified specifications. Recycling all oils used in vehicles, and water used in the vehicle wash plant will help to reduce consumption.

The trains the LRT will run will be manufactured by Alstom, a French multinational. The model is called Citadis, a successful design with more than 1,500 units in service in more than 40 cities, including some that, like Ottawa, have snowy, icy winters.

Each 49-metre unit is articulated in several places, and can accommodate 300 passengers. Units can be coupled together to form longer trains. They have a top speed of 100 km/h and the traffic control system will allow them to run at intervals as low as 1 minute, 45 seconds. The travel time from one end of the line to the other will be about 24 minutes.

The maintenance and storage facility has to be done by July 2015, because that’s where the trains will be assembled.

The LRT system will come with a branch line already up and running. Called the O-Train, the line runs south from Bayview Station, through the campus of Carleton University, and on to a south-end terminal. Originally planned as a demonstration project, the O-Train proved so popular it was kept in service.

last update:Sep 25, 2014

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