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Solving the downtown truck problem: Challenges for bridges

It is highly recommend to anyone interested in this subject to take a drive down these three short listed corridors on both sides of the Ottawa river so that they become more than just lines on a map.  It will inform one's perspective on the practicality of turning any of them into a major truck route that and it's potential to attract (divert) a majority of trucks currently traveling through the downtown.

The challenges break down into several categories:

Political / jurisdictional challenges

Today the issue of trucks is entirely an Ottawa issue.  Once trucks reach the Macdonald-Cartier bridge to/from Quebec they enter the Hwy 5/50 freeway system and do not impact residential communities.  In the future, if a new bridge is built and trucks are shifted to one of the new corridors then once on the Quebec side of the river trucks will be passing through existing residential neighborhoods.

To what extent can Ottawa shift its truck problem onto Gatineau?  Anticipating this possibility when a bridge was initially recommended at Kettle Island,  Gatineau council passed a motion calling on Ottawa to leave the King Edward corridor open to trucks after a new bridge is built. You can read the details of this City_of_Gatineau_motion here.   This appears to be what the NCC has anticipated and hence their recommendation also after Phase 1 was to leave King Edward open to trucks.  In this scenario computer simulations based on then current knowledge of origins and destinations estimated that 60% of the truck traffic would continue to prefer the downtown Ottawa Waller/Rideau/King Edward corridor.

If the City of Ottawa should attempt to take things one step further and ban inter-provincial trucks from King Edward forcing 100% of them onto the new corridor it is easy to see why the City of Gatineau which currently does not have this problem of trucks in their residential areas would find this unacceptable.  If Ottawa can ban trucks from the King Edward corridor there is nothing to stop the City of Gatineau from banning trucks from the corridor through its eastern neighborhoods.  Obviously it will not come to such an impasse as some other authority would step in.  It is difficult to imagine a scenario where Ottawa has any other choice but to leave the King Edward corridor open to trucks even after a new bridge is built.

Assuming this 'share the trucks' between downtown and a new eastern bridge scenario is the only realistic one, then based on the NCC's Phase 1 estimates of increases in truck traffic from growth,  there would again be 2500 trucks per day (the same as today) using the King Edward corridor by 2031.  Meanwhile there will now also be 1500 heavy trucks per day passing through the new eastern bridge corridor on the Ottawa and Gatineau sides of the river.

This will be the end result of spending a proposed 1,1B$ to 1.4B$ for a new bridge.  This is no solution at all.  Worse than simply shifting the problem to a new set of neighborhoods, this spreads the problem to new neighborhoods without even solving the problem downtown.

It should also be mentioned that the truck routing issue is even more complicated than this.  The other inter-provincial truck route today is the Chaudieres bridge and it is used by about 500 (15-20% of the total) today.  If the King Edward corridor was to be closed to trucks presumably a number of them would find it more convenient to shift to the Chaudieres corridor rather than the lengthy re-route to the east.   A large increase to the number of trucks using the Chaudiere corridor will be unacceptable to all the communities along its borders.

Economic (distance) challenges

If there is a new bridge in the east end, then some trucks will find this more convenient and it will shorten their trip times. Others, if prohibited from traveling through the downtown (despite the political challenges described above) will find the trip around an eastern bridge a considerable detour.   We know that from the Phase 1 simulations that 60% of trucks would prefer to take a route through downtown. If we make an assumption that one third of these would find either route acceptable then as many as two thirds will be economically disadvantaged by taking a route around via a new east end bridge corridor.  For corridor 5 this would be up to 20km and for corridor's 6 and 7 closer to 30km. 

Assuming an average operating cost for a heavy truck at 2$ per km would yield a cost of 40$ to 60$ for each trip across the river.  For long-haul journeys this may not be a problem but from evidence collected so far most of the inter-provincial truck trips are for journeys within the National Capital Region.  For them a 10-20 km trip turned into a 30-40km trip will be a significant economic hardship.

A quick calculation of the economic penalty for business resulting from a mandatory diversion to a new east end bridge (even the nearest one at option 5) would yield the following results:

     20km extra route * 2$ per km * 2/3 of 60% of 3000 daily trucks * 300 days per year
    = $14 million economic penalty per year to business in the National Capital Region.

With an impact of $14 million (minimum) per year economic costs, businesses can be expected to exercise their democratic rights and work to overturn any decision that mandates them to take such a lengthy detour.

During the Phase 2A public consultations Sustainable Solutions requested that Phase 2B  include an investigation into these economic implications including consultation with affected business representatives.   These requests did not find their way into the final Phase 2B Study Design Report and it was only through further intensive Sustainable Solutions lobbying and motions of Ottawa City council that the NCC  changed their study design to include this level of analysis/consultation.  A copy of this finally updated NCC_truck_study_design can be viewed here.

Corridor suitability (as a truck route) challenges

Each of the currently shortlisted corridors involve the crossing of a number of signalized intersections.  They also pass through at some point existing residential areas and significant undeveloped green space and/or wetlands.  A closer look at each of them will show that they suffer from many of the same issues as the current corridor through downtown Ottawa. Is this enough of an improvement from today's situation to justify moving forward with alternatives that cost $1.1B-$1.4B?  

This Google maps view of these corridors can be used to zoom in for greater detail or to see street and aerial views.

Following are more details on the challenges of each of the shortlisted corridors.

Corridor 5: Aviation Parkway-Kettle Island-Montee Paiement

This corridor is the longest of the three at over 10 kms (between Hwy 417 and Hwy 50) and requires the rebuilding of the 417/174 interchange.  (Recall that in comparison today trucks traveling to Quebec encounter a 3 km passage from the 417 to Hwy 5 via Nicolas-Waller-Rideau-King Edward). In addition, trucks travelling the length of this Corridor 5 will encounter 10-15 signalized intersections.  That is more than they encounter today on the King Edward Corridor.   This corridor also passes immediately adjacent to the Montfort Hospital, RCMP Musical Ride and the Aviation Museum. It also crosses Kettle Island which is owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

To construct this corridor on the Gatineau side, a new  1 km section of roadway will need to be built along the route of a current bicycle path, from the Ottawa riverbank north to join the existing Montee Paiement at Blvd Maloney.  This 1 km section, in addition to being a bicycle path today will be alongside a golf course to the east and along the backyards of a sub-division of houses to the west.   This is not the best of characteristics for a truck route designed for from 1000 to 3000 heavy trucks per day.

Once north of Blvd Maloney along Montee Paiement trucks will climb a steep hill and pass many signalized intersections at accesses to numerous malls/strip malls.  In addition there are driveways for many homes along this section of Montee Paiment.  It is hard to imagine thousands of heavy trucks per day crawling along this already busy corridor.

Corridor 6: Ottawa Greenbelt-Lower Duck Island-Blvd Lorraine

This corridor clocks in at ~7+ kms long vs 3kms for today's route through downtown and it is located about 12 kms east of downtown along the 417/174.  At this distance from downtown the detour for any trucks starting their journey near the center or west of the city is significant.  This corridor requires a new  Hwy 174 interchange to be built in the eastern Greenbelt and a new 4-lane arterial road built through the Greenbelt to the shore of the Ottawa river.  Once across the river and into Quebec it must cross through approximately 1km of undeveloped wetlands to join an existing 2 lane road (boul Lorrain) for about 3 kms through what feels like a small rural Quebec community with houses with small setbacks from the road.  Changing this into a 4-lane arterial carrying more than a thousand heavy trucks per day will devastate this area.  Here's a glance at what Blvd_Lorrain looks like today:

Corridor 7:  Ottawa Greenbelt-Baie Mclaurin-Gatineau Airport

This corridor is similar to Corridor 6 on the Ottawa side, 12 kms east of downtown with a new interchange and 4-lane road across the Greenbelt and about 6kms across to the Hwy 50 in Quebec where a new interchange is to built near the Gatineau airport. From here it will then be ~20km  back to downtown Hull.  This is hardly a useful route for commercial goods movement between the metropolitan areas.  This corridor touches the least human development because it is the farthest outside of the built-up area, but of all the areas it crosses the most sensitive wetlands (on the Quebec side).

The key point here is to note that for varying different reasons the routing of each of these corridors is quite problematic from the perspective of being useful as a significant alternate route for thousands of heavy trucks per day.


The above 3 descriptions illustrate that there are a host of challenges lying in the way of each of the short-listed corridors to serve as major alternative routes for trucking.  Most residents of Ottawa are under the impression that a new bridge corridor in the east end will be the solution to the situation of thousands of heavy trucks per day transiting through Ottawa's rapidly intensifying downtown area.  This is quite likely not the case. 

It is for these reasons that other alternatives to the three shortlisted bridge corridors must be thoroughly explored and given a full and fair assessment.  When these alternatives are contrasted against these challenges listed here for the proposed east end bridges, then an objective comparison of the full set of alternatives will be possible.