Ottawa council turnover to delay LRT Phase 2 contract; schedule unaffected, says planning director

LRT

Following a third-consecutive election victory, Jim Watson will be in the mayor’s office see Phase 1 of the LRT expansion start running – but voting on the Phase 2 contract will be delayed thanks to a municipal legality.

Ottawa saw seven new faces elected to city council in Monday’s municipal election. With less than 75 per cent of city council returning – 70.8, to be exact – Ottawa is stuck with what’s known as a “lame duck” council until the new term begins.

This means city council, which doesn’t turn over until Dec. 1, can’t vote on anything worth more than $50,000. That includes the second phase of the LRT expansion, one of Watson’s priorities upon reelection, which would see the line extending as far as Algonquin College and the Ottawa International Airport with a scheduled completion date of 2023.

Voting for the $3.3-billion contract was already pushed back in March after more time was required to prepare the bids. Now, Chris Swail, the director of O-Train planning, says the new council won’t be able to tackle the LRT contract until early 2019.

Swail tells OBJ the O-Train planners were prepared for the delay an election might cause, preferring to wait for the new council to settle in instead of rushing the approval.

“We gave ourselves that flexibility,” says Swail. “We did not want to be in a position where we were going to try and expedite the approval process of such a significant contract.”

The fact that there are seven new councilors means more effort needs to go into getting them up to speed on the file, says Swail. “We’d like to take our time and give them the appropriate briefings.” Despite the switch-up, he says he’s confident the contract will be approved.

Swail adds that the delay in voting shouldn’t hold up breaking ground on the project. Once the contract is approved, he says it will take a couple months for the deal to close, after which they will be “ready to go almost immediately” for some of the investigative and critical infrastructure work.

By the middle of 2019, he says Ottawa residents can expect to see some of the major construction activities begin, such as the tunnel from west of Dominion Station to Lincoln Fields.

The opening of Phase 1 has been delayed twice to 2019, a delay that Swail says will not affect the schedule for Phase 2 since the construction sites are entirely separate.