At Ottawa City Hall on March 6th, City Council approved the next phase of the long term light rail plans, known as LRT Stage 2. In recent weeks, there has been much press on this project and not all of it has been accurate. Seeing as I supported moving forward with Stage 2, I just wanted to use this opportunity to speak to the project and address some recent misconceptions.
To begin, I think it is important to highlight the timeline for Stage 2. This is not something that has been rushed into. During my first six years on Council, we have approved various milestones leading toward extending the initial phase of LRT, which itself began during the 2006-2010 term of Council. In March 2017, Council approved the procurement process for awarding Stage 2 of LRT. At that time, we set the March 29th, 2019 date for signing the contract. Therefore, this current contract award process has been going on for the last two years. All bids had to meet certain criteria to get shortlisted and then the successful bidder was chosen from the short list. You have likely heard accusations of rushing the process. As you can see, that is not the case. Staff have just been following the Council approved schedule.
In terms of the timing of approving Stage 2 before Stage 1 is open and running. Based on the timeline above, it was never suggested by staff or committed to by Council that one was contingent on the other. The reality is that Stage 1 is close to the finish line and the Rideau Transit Group is under contract to deliver the project. Failure is not an option. Handing over an incomplete project is not an option. It is essential they get this right and we have made that clear to them. In fact, we haven’t even paid them since February 2018. They are only paid when they reach certain milestones. Rideau Transit Group also has the 30-year maintenance contract for LRT so this isn’t a group that is going to wrap it up and walk away. It is in their best interest to complete the contract as approved and ensure it operates how we expect it to.
Since Council agreed to a contract date of March 29, 2019, it is not just a simple task to delay a decision to wait for Stage 1 to be operational. We know the system will open. Stage 1 makes no sense without Stage 2. If we delayed beyond this month, we run the risk of contravening Council’s own procurement process. Even a six month delay would equate to an inflated construction cost of $100M. Starting over on the procurement process would result in a 1-2 year delay.
Finally, media reports have suggested that LRT does not work in the winter. This is simply not true. RTG has been running trains along the entire 12km track all winter. There were certain times where weather has impacted the testing but this has been during times that would not be replicated during normal operations. Normal operations on the track will help keep snow clear from the line. Additionally, RTG is sourcing snow melting equipment for the line that could be used overnight while the trains are not running. The one benefit of the delayed open date is that it has afforded RTG more time for winter testing during the worst winter in recent memory.
With the new contract, we also integrate lessons learned from the previous contract. One such change will be the Liquidated Damages aspect. In Stage 1, when RTG missed their in service deadline, they were had to pay $1M in liquidated damages. On a $2.1B project, I am not certain that $1M is a significant amount. As a result, the Stage 2 contract will feature a $10M cost assessed should the contractor not meet the handover date as set out in the contract.
In the end, I believe that moving forward with Stage 2 is the right thing to do. During the 2006 election, the sentiment was clear that the public wanted something different from the North-South O-Train proposal. Larry O’Brien was elected and the current plan was born. Over the last eight years, it has been our job to deliver and we have done that so far. The longer we defer the more money this project will cost. LRT Stage 2 will bring rail closer to Manotick in Riverside South and will drastically improve the commute for those on the 283 with a transfer at Bayshore. The main issues with the 283 in recent years have all taken place along the transitway in the urban core.
If anyone has any questions on this project, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
2019 Town Hall Series
Over the last two months, our Rideau-Goulbourn team has hosted a number of town hall meetings throughout the ward. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, this has not been an ideal winter. As a result, we had to cancel a few meetings. While we are still working on rescheduling all of those meetings, we have rescheduled our Richmond Town Hall, which was postponed due to the Richmond Village Association Annual General Meeting. Our town hall meeting in Richmond will be held on Tuesday, April 23rd at 7:00pm at St. Philip’s Parish Hall. Tentatively, we are looking at Monday, April 15th for our Kars Town Hall. Stay tuned for dates for our town halls in Goulbourn, Ashton and Munster.
If you have any comments, questions or concerns, please feel free to email me at Scott.Moffatt@ottawa.ca or contact me by phone at 613-580-2491. For information on Rideau-Goulbourn issues, please visit RideauGoulbourn.ca.