Light rail funding: now the real wait begins

Editor’s note: Peter Raaymakers is the executive director of the Public Transit in Ottawa portal (TransitOttawa.ca), and tries to encourage constructive discussion on transit in the city on that site. He is also the managing editor of the Journal of Public Transit in Ottawa, the community-reviewed journal on pressing transit issues in the city.

The City of Ottawa has been anxiously waiting for months to hear what John Baird announced yesterday: A federal pledge to share the costs of the city’s light-rail transit plan. Not a full share of the cost, mind you; a the feds have agreed to take on a $600M (one-third) share of the initial $1.8B cost estimate, instead of today’s more accurate $2.1B cost estimate. Back in December, the provincial government made a pledge for the same amount, meaning that the City is left with the remaining $900M (plus any further cost overruns, which shouldn’t be unexpected) on the bill.

But there are still a number of questions. Obviously, where the city will get the funding for our larger piece of the pie will be discussed for months and likely years. Mayoral candidate Jim Watson is suggesting that the plan as is will cost too much, and perhaps council needs to re-visit the inclusion of the Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel (DOTT) in the plan. Any change like that would impact the current funding pledges, both of which have been made with the current plan in mind–Baird, in particular, outlined that his government’s money was committed for the plan we’ve all been following for some time now.

And there’s also the matter of land procurement. Some portions of the line, including the DOTT, will have to travel along or underneath federally-owned lands; it seems unclear whether the costs of that land were included in the $600M pledge (meaning there’s less actual money to spend), or whether the city will have to pay for them (some have said the cost may be a nominal fee of $1 or something similar).

The funding announcement from the feds is another step on the route to light-rail transit in Ottawa. But we’ve still got farther to go than we’ve come so far.

Photo by Mike Gifford