417 widening to be folded into LRT project

The contract to build Ottawa’s light-rail line is slated to become far more lucrative for the successful bidder.

City staff are now proposing to bundle the contracts to widen Highway 417 – needed to accommodate buses as the Transitway is converted to rail – and construct the actual $2.1-billion LRT line.

In a report going before the city’s finance and economic development committee next week, municipal staff say combining the project would eliminate the risk of costly delays, mitigate transit disruption and maximize innovation.

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The report says provincial officials support holding a single competition, which would hold a single private-sector team responsible for the construction and scheduling of both projects.

Any delay in widening the highway would be costly for the light rail project, and would compromise bus transit service for east Ottawa.

The original proposed schedule to widen Highway 417 would have seen construction begin this fall, and completed by fall of 2015. Under the revised plan, some advanced work could still be completed this year, such as construction of columns in the Rideau River to support the widened bridge.

Construction of the light-rail portion is set to begin in the first quarter of 2013, with the first trains to run in 2018.

In June 2011, the provincial government announced it would fund the widening of Highway 417 from Ottawa Road 174 to the Nicholas Street exit. The province has agreed to allocated the appropriate funding to the city if the two projects are awarded to a single proponent.

The committee sought approval for the deputy city manager of planning and infrastructure to negotiate an agreement with the province to officially bundle the two projects, and to direct staff to make appropriate amendments to the OLRT project procurement documents.

Because of the strict timelines of the highway widening project, the amount of innovation the three shortlisted OLRT proponents can offer is limited, with less opportunity to reduce costs and revise the project schedule.

At the upcoming meeting, the committee is also expected to hear a decision to shift the the Rideau LRT station from under the Rideau Canal, near the National Arts Centre, to east of Sussex Drive. The shift allows for more access to the ByWard Market, will reduce the depth of the station, and will increase the station’s catchment area. The new location will also balance ridership at the station entrances and deliver riders closer to their destinations.

Council approved a modified tunnel alignment last July that reduced the proposed depth of the Rideau Station from 38 metres to 29 metres. However, moving the station away from the Rideau Canal will allow for further reduction of the tunnel’s depth.

Another suggested change is to place Bayview station directly on top of the O-Train station, instead of its original location east of the station. This will provide more convenient connections to the O-Train and better pedestrian and cycling connections for residents in Mechanicsville and Hintonburg to the southwest, and Dalhousie to the southeast.

Design refinements will continue throughout the procurement process until a final design is presented to council and a contract is awarded this December.

City staff will host a public open house this spring to discuss the updated LRT designs.

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