Opinion: Western LRT – did we get a good deal?

Special to KT by Charles Davies

To no one’s surprise, the City of Ottawa confirmed at its March 30 LRT Open House that it is pressing ahead with its preferred route between Dominion and Lincoln Fields after having reached its deal with the NCC – but how good a deal is it?

The Memorandum of Understanding between the City and NCC, and the published notes of their meetings, reveal that the City got the following out of the deal: its preferred Parkway route, with NCC design concessions at Dominion; and a commitment from the NCC to be flexible on LRT design issues in the Pinecrest Creek Valley.

The NCC got: a substantial increase in Parkway green space; preservation of most of the forest border; two new pedestrian/cyclist access paths; $30M for finish landscaping to its own design; settlement in its favour of a long standing zoning dispute; fair market value payment for use of its lands; veto power over the design of the Cleary station; compensation for trees removed for construction; a new, realigned section of roadway consistent with its long-term linear park vision; and enhancements to pathways in the sector – all at City expense.

Further, in turning down the NCC’s offer of a route across Rochester Field to the Richmond/Byron corridor the City declined NCC deal sweeteners of: a land swap giving the City full ownership of the LRT route (meaning no land use payments and no need for NCC approval for future maintenance or other work); cost-sharing of construction disruption mitigations; transfer of NCC land elsewhere for a City park; and waiver of Federal Land Use and Design Approval requirements – all of which would have been at no cost to the City.

In short, the NCC got a significant City contribution towards realization of its long-term vision for the Parkway lands. It is not at all evident that the City got comparable value.

The notes from the meetings also show that the City finally acknowledged, contrary to what the public had been consistently told, that both the Parkway and Rochester-Byron route options would have similar construction costs, so the net value calculation boils down to the long-term financial, operating and community benefits and drawbacks for each option – and this comparison has never been seriously done. We therefore don’t know which solution offered the best overall return for the investment, and we never will.

None of this inspires confidence in the City’s handling of this file, which is unfortunate because it has done a good job getting the “big picture” right in developing and approving the Transportation Master Plan. Where it clearly needs to up its game is in the management and oversight of the individual projects. A good start would be to clearly explain how this apparently lopsided deal with the NCC provides the best possible Western LRT solution for current and future residents and taxpayers, compared to the alternative that was on the table.

Charles Davies is a resident of Kitchissippi Ward.

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