Opinion: Parking overlooked in rush to embrace Carling Building hospital site

Fiasco was a word that readily came to mind when describing the mess over where to build a new Ottawa hospital. Now, it seems, madness might be a better word.

How – other than “madness” – can you describe the prospect of building a new hospital without adequate parking for the thousands of people who will visit it every hour of every day?

It seems there is a real possibility this will happen if the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau approves a site on the Central Experimental Farm near Dow’s Lake as the location of the new Ottawa Hospital.

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In a nutshell, there is space at the site for adequate parking – but only if it is a multi-storey car park, above or below ground. And, apparently, that would be too expensive to contemplate.

Figures published by the Ottawa Hospital say the Civic needs approximately 3,400 spaces. (For comparison, there are currently some 1,200 parking spots for visitors and 150 for staff at the current location. The hospital has another 1,200 offsite parking spaces for employees).

Constructing a new parking lot of that size would cost $16 million, according to the hospital’s estimates. A multi-storey carpark would push the bill up to $100 million, while burying it underground would cost $291 million.

The hospital says its “starting position will always be to explore the most cost-conservative options to ensure limited dollars are spent on health care, not infrastructure.”

It adds, however, that it intends to “work with the community to find creative parking and transit solutions.”

Such a policy, designed to strongly encourage people to leave their car at home, might be all right when planning a new hockey stadium on LeBreton Flats, but not when building a new hospital.

Who says it’s too expensive to build environmentally-friendly parking? Well, no one is likely to admit to that. But this will be a provincially-funded hospital and the Ontario government, we’re told, doesn’t pay for construction of hospital parking, let alone multi-storey car parks.

So, that’s the dilemma: Put the new hospital at the site of the former Sir John Carling Building, where there will probably be inadequate parking space. Or put it somewhere else.

This urgently-needed new health facility has already been delayed for more than a year. That is because the Trudeau Liberals axed a decision by the former Harper government to allow the hospital to go on federally-owned farmland. That was the preferred site of Ottawa Hospital administrators, and is just across Carling Avenue from the existing Civic campus and the adjoining University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

The environmental objection to that site was that the land was valuable for farm research. Since the Trudeau Liberals decided the land was too useful to be given over to a hospital, it’s been learned that some of this land has been contaminated by road salt and cannot be used for research.

Now, the parking issue has put into question the selection of the Sir John Carling site.

This site is the belatedly declared choice of locally elected Liberal politicians, federal and provincial. These politicians recently faced a barrage of complaints – deservedly – from the public when it was learned the federal government might choose to offer a site for the hospital in the Tunney’s Pasture federal office complex.

The fact these Liberal politicians spoke up for what they perceived to be the public interest speaks well of our democratic system of government.

It’s up to the federal government of the day to make the final choice. Once the Liberal government makes up its mind, things can move quickly. But it’s not too late to find out what the public thinks.

What are the pros and cons of the site near Dow’s Lake, including estimated total cost? What are the pros and cons of the site on Carling Avenue, including estimated total cost?

Give us this information – say, within two weeks. Ask us what we think. Conduct a scientific opinion poll. Ask us to write our members of Parliament. Settle this within a month, and get it right. 

Michael Prentice is OBJ’s columnist on retail and consumer issues.

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