OC Transpo trying to keep defence employees on board

OC Transpo is gearing up to keep as many National Defence employees as possible as the great Nortel campus migration finally begins.

Beginning in September, about 3,400 National Defence employees will begin their move from offices across the region to the campus at 3500 Carling Avenue. The rest of the 8,500 employees will have arrived by 2019.

For Ottawa’s transit planners, this poses a challenge. Many defence employees currently live in Orleans, according to OC Transpo’s systems planning manager Pat Scrimgeour. Consolidating them in the west end likely means more transit headaches.

"We all recognize it’s a longer trip for many people and some people may choose to get there other ways," Mr. Scrimgeour said.

To combat a potential transit exodus, OC Transpo staff have been "feeding information" to National Defence about planned transit tweaks so employees can plan ahead for their new commute.

That includes permanently extending Route 103, which starts in Orleans, directly to a new bus stop on campus come September. Peak hour, peak direction route 101 trips from St-Laurent station will also be extended.

And route 182, which currently leaves from Lincoln Fields and heads west through Nepean and Kanata, will start at Tunney’s Pasture instead to make connections easier this fall.

Defence spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said his department is working closely with OC Transpo and Gatineau’s STO to "ensure a smooth transition."

Staff are also developing a transportation demand management plan that "will emphasize the use of public transit," he added.

Mr. Scrimgeour said OC Transpo’s doing everything it can to ease the pain for customers, and will continue to tweak routes as demand patterns change.

"I hope they’ll stay," he said.

Hub with a history

The shift to Nortel’s former headquarters in Nepean has been in the works since 2010.

The federal government purchased the Carling Avenue campus for $208 million a year after the telecommunications company filed for bankruptcy, and expected to start relocating some 8,500 National Defence employees to their new digs by the end of 2015.

But that was delayed by nine months when Public Works employees discovered major structural damage at some of the buildings in late 2014.

The government said at the time it would have to replace the buildings’ massive glass panels, which had become unsealed. That was on top of the $506 million in renovations already budgeted to get the campus ready for sensitive National Defence operations.

At its height, the campus was home to more than 10,000 Nortel employees in 11 buildings, complete with a man-made lake and an in-house softball league.

It’s by no means empty today, but it’s going to get a whole lot cosier once the federal employees begin to move in this September.

According to Public Works, about 3,400 people will start to move this fall, and everyone should have settled there by 2019.

The move will reduce National Defence’s office locations in the capital region from more than 40 to about 10, saving up to $910 million over 25 years, the department said.

Several major offices in Gatineau and Ottawa will remain open, including the massive building on Colonel By Drive downtown and the Louis St. Laurent building near Lac Leamy. 

This article originally appeared on metronews.ca on July 6.