2020 has been a busy year for the NCC. Over the last few months my office has filled out consultations and engaged with their staff on at least three different projects. This update will provide information and my thoughts on the NCC consultations and specifically the Sixth Crossing (Bridge), Alexandra Bridge reconstruction, and the NCC pathways plan.

1- Long-term Integrated Interprovincial Crossings Plan (“Sixth Crossing”)

Over the last 50+ years there have been several studies aiming to remove interprovincial truck crossings through Ottawa’s downtown streets.

According to the NCC: many of the five interprovincial vehicular bridges (the Champlain Bridge, Chaudière Crossing, Portage Bridge, Alexandra Bridge and Macdonald-Cartier Bridge) are at or beyond their designed capacities. Beyond this, the population of the Ottawa-Gatineau area is expected to grow by one-fifth (19%, or approximately 300,000 people), therefore increasing demand for interprovincial travel.

Two of these crossings (Alexandra and Macdonald-Cartier Bridges) cut through the core of our city, in our community, causing safety, noise, pollution, mobility, and economic development issues.

The residents of Ottawa deserve a resolution to this long-standing issue in our Capital City.

When I went through the questions for this online consultation a few points stuck out to me:

  • The NCC needs to recognize the City of Ottawa’s current transportation issues. In particular, the interprovincial truck route going through our city’s downtown should be part of their vision and their strategic plan should make reference to this important chronic issue of the capital city.
  • The consultation seemed to focus on commuters working for the federal government. The NCC should open up some of its questions to allow all users of the transportation in our region to weigh in. This includes better consideration of the businesses in Gatineau and Ottawa. I would have liked the NCC to state the importance of tourism to our capital region and include this in their priorities.
  • The NCC needs to work on connecting the 6th crossing to the 417 to resolve truck route issues. Doing so improves the quality of life for residents living in the proximity to these crossings and would improve the experience of all users crossing the beautiful Ottawa River.
  • The NCC needs to prioritize users within the municipal boundaries of Ottawa and Gatineau and therefore should prioritize a central location for this crossing. This would ensure that no specific demographic or area is favored all while ensuring that this crossing benefits the cities it connects. From there, users of other municipalities and suburbs can access this through our cities and not have the unintended consequences of encouraging sprawls into neighbouring municipalities.
  • The NCC must integrate a transit first approach. As this project will be usable for several generations, it is important to consider transportation emission reduction targets, future trends and uses. According to the NCC, about half of the online consultation participants prioritized transit in their responses. This means that this bridge should prioritize transit users.

I also left this consultation with the following questions

  • How were the questions or parameters for this consultation created? Since there were a lot of multiple-choice questions, I did not feel that all participants could easily voice their opinions and priorities.
  • Does the NCC have the authority to make some of the decisions we were asked about in the survey? For example, when asked about interprovincial access, users were asked about loading zones. As well, when asked about solutions to commuting issues, Users could select “work from home more” as an option.

More information on this NCC-led project can be found here: https://ncc-ccn.gc.ca/projects/refresh-studies-sixth-interprovincial-crossing

Beyond future plans to add a crossing over the Ottawa River, the NCC must also work to maintain current infrastructure. Improving the Alexandra Bridge is key to this.

2- Alexandra Bridge Replacement Project

The Alexandra Bridge is one of five interprovincial bridges in the Canada’s Capital Region (CCR) that link the cities of Ottawa, Ontario, and Gatineau, Quebec. The bridge spans the Ottawa River from Nepean Point, just west of Ottawa’s ByWard Market, to the Canadian Museum of History in the Hull district of Gatineau.

The National Capital Commission (NCC) and Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) have identified that it is now due for a replacement as it is reaching the end of its service life. The bridge has been undergoing repairs for decades and will continue into 2022–2023 to allow it to remain in service until it is replaced within the next 10 years.

As part of the replacement process, an online consultation took place from November 3, 2020 – November 17, 2020. I participated in this consultation to share my thoughts with the NCC. This bridge is an important crossing for residents of our city, is an important connection point to and from the ByWard Market, and drives traffic through the Rideau-Vanier community.

This consultation had fewer questions than the sixth crossing session above. Users were able to type their answers on more than half of the questions.

When I went through the questions for this online consultation a few points stuck out to me:

  • This bridge is located in a historic and tourism-rich area. It allows access to interprovincial travel to our museums, the Byward Market as well as the parliamentary precinct. For this reason, it is important that a new bridge encourages interprovincial travel that adds to the current vision of our city. One survey question asked for suggestions to celebrate history and design; I believe this should be fundamental objectives in the design of the replacement bridge. Design and materials matter to ensure it fits well with the high profile surrounding historic local and national attributes of our Capital City.
  • As we are looking at a project that is to be completed in the next 10 years, I believe it is important that the new design improves the experience for users of active transportation. Specifically, I would like to see designated and protected cycling facilities along with a segregated pedestrian walkway, and transit connection.
  • Since this crossing passes over the Ottawa River and has views of Parliament Hill, I suggest that the NCC look to give visitors access to the water such as by developing an observatory or deck at water-level for visitors to soak in breathtaking views of their surroundings.

More information on this NCC-led project can be found here:  https://ncc-ccn.gc.ca/projects/alexandra-bridge-replacement

As we look to improve bridge crossings over the Ottawa River, it is also important that we look at improving all modes transportation through-out the National Capital Region. One example is the NCC’s Capital Pathways.

3- Capital Pathways

The Capital Pathway is a 236-kilometer network of multi-use paths that connects our Nation’s Capital Region. The Capital Pathway is an exceptional Capital discovery route that connects large natural areas, cultural landscapes and symbolic points of interest in the Capital. The first NCC paths were developed after the National Capital Act was created in 1959.

The Capital Pathway currently gives users access to the Rideau and Ottawa River, the Rideau Canal, the Greenbelt, the NCC Parks like Vincent Massey, tourism attractions like the War Museum, Parliament Hill, Gatineau park and much more.

To determine the direction of its operations, the NCC plans to direct its priorities and future pathway objectives. Recently they have been working on the Capital Pathway Strategic Plan. This plan will update the latest plan implemented back in 2006.

Public engagement for the Capital Pathway Strategic plan began with a workshop in February 2018, an online survey from June–July 2018, and most recently an online consultation on the draft plan from May–June 2020. Following this, a report was created and accepted by the NCC Board of Directors in October 2020.

When I went through this, a few points stuck out to me:

  • The NCC needs to maintain its pathways throughout the winter. There are several high-volume paths that are heavily used by the community for commuting. Specifically, I would like to see the Rideau River Eastern Pathway and Ottawa River Pathway maintained throughout the winter. As well, maintaining other paths specifically for winter activities could also be an opportunity to encourage outdoor activity – especially now in light of many residents seeking new activities through this Covid-19 period.
  • The NCC needs to provide lighting on its pathways to ensure safety and accessibility. This is particularly important in urban areas where the use of pathways represent important commuting connections for communities. Specically, I would like to see lighting added to the Rideau River Eastern Pathway and Ottawa River Pathway.
  • The NCC should prioritize the capital pathways that connect important tourism zones in our city. Doing so will ensure that these paths continue to attract users and accommodate peak volumes all while supporting local businesses.
  • I believe that the residents of Ottawa should be able to make the most of our city through a network of active transportation that is both safe and accessible from every neighbourhood. Specifically, I ask that the NCC work with City of Ottawa staff to improve safety and connectivity at the intersection of Montreal Road and North River Road. Working to implement an underpass for the Rideau River Eastern Pathway would ensure safety and accessibility for all transportation users while improving quality of life and contributing towards our city’s goal of encouraging safe greener transportation options.

More information on this NCC-led plan can be accessed here: https://ncc-ccn.gc.ca/our-plans/capital-pathway-strategic-plan#doc3