Truck Problem: Past Solution Attempts
The Ottawa downtown inter-provincial truck problem has been an issue for decades and the subject of several previous initiatives which all ended without producing a solution. In the early ‘90s a detailed engineering study (named JACPAT) conducted by the NCC and the Ottawa-Carleton regional government concluded that a new bridge would be required by 2010 and the best location would be at Aviation Parkway/Kettle Island/Montée Paiement. In the late 90's, an extension was proposed of the Vanier Parkway through New Edinburgh to funnel trucks and cars to and from the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge rather than routing them through the downtown. Opposition from residents resulted in this roadway link eventually being removed from Ottawa's Official Plan. Downtown communities appealed this decision to the OMB. The OMB upheld this decision and stated that a new bridge should be built at Kettle Is instead.
In 2007 the NCC, the Province of Ontario and the Province of Quebec launched another comprehensive study to determine where a new interprovincial crossing should be built. Fourteen options were evaluated at twelve locations. The NCC elected not to move forward with any options other than an additional Ottawa River vehicular crossing. In 2009 the NCC concluded the best location was the Aviation Parkway/Kettle Island/Montée Paiement corridor.
Following public pressure, a more detailed study was conducted to compare the three previously highest-ranked locations for a bridge. In 2013 the conclusion was once again that a new bridge should be built at Aviation Parkway/Kettle Island/Montée Paiement. The study also revealed some negative results. It would spread the truck problem to additional communities and there was no certainty that it would lead to the removal of the majority of trucks from the King-Edward, Rideau, Waller and Nicolas (KERWN) corridor. It would also have a negative impact on public transit ridership, both in Ottawa and Gatineau.
The Province of Ontario, again under public pressure, withdrew at this point from further participation in this Study. Shortly after, the Province of Quebec withdrew its participation, and finally the NCC ended the effort. The downtown truck problem remained unresolved yet again.
Later in 2013, the City of Ottawa and the Province of Ontario agreed to a new initiative by co-funding a $750,000 engineering feasibility study for a downtown tunnel to connect Highway 417 to the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge (not a tunnel under the Ottawa River).
In August 2016 the Study results were released. This Study examined several possible routes for a 417 to Macdonald-Cartier bridge tunnel and concluded that a tunnel was technically feasible. The recommended route for a tunnel would locate its southern portal near the Vanier Parkway at Coventry Rd and continue under the Rideau River, East Sandy Hill, East Lowertown with the northern portal at the southern end of the Macdonald-Cartier bridge.
The proposed tunnel would be 3.4km long, would in fact be 2 separate tunnels (one for each direction of travel), with 2 lanes in each tunnel. The cost was estimated at between 1.7B$ and 2.0B$ (2015$). It was estimated that if the tunnel existed in 2016 that it would carry approximately 1700 trucks and 20,000-25,000 cars per day. During the peak afternoon period the car traffic would approach 1400 vehicles per hour and a forecast was made that this would increase to 2500 vehicles per hour by 2031. Unfortunately the Study did not provide any forecast for how much additional truck traffic the tunnel would carry by 2031.
Ottawa City Council on Sep 14, 2016 voted 21-2 to set aside 2.5m$ in the 2017 budget for a detailed environmental assessment (EA) for this tunnel and commissioned the Mayor to approach the provincial and federal governments to also contribute to the funding of the EA on a 1/3 basis.
A tunnel under downtown would have the potential to solve the truck problem, once and for all: The subset of the 2600 daily interprovincial trucks not making stops in the downtown would be removed from the KERWN corridor without diverting them through other communities. As the Region grows over the next 50+ years, the tunnel would be able to accommodate all of the growth in interprovincial truck traffic with no incremental impact on any communities on either side of the Ottawa River. A downtown tunnel would also provide significant travel time savings for goods movement and for the 20,000 plus daily inter-provincial car trips that now make unwanted trips through downtown streets.
Miami and Dublin are cities with very similar situations to Ottawa. In those cities downtown streets had been the major truck routes toward the city seaports. Both of these cities built tunnels to solve this problem (Dublin in 2006 and Miami in 2013). Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Brisbane, Sydney, Auckland, Oakland, Seattle, and other cities have all recently completed, or are in the process of constructing, tunnels for cars/trucks under their downtowns.
In 2020, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) hired an engineering consulting firm to 'refresh' the analysis that was performed in the 2007-2013 Bridge Study for the purposes of determining if anything had changed that could result in a different conclusion concerning the preferred location for a new bridge. This "Sixth interprovincial Bridge Crossing Study Refresh" concluded that the Kettle Is. corridor remained the preferred location. The cost estimate for a bridge at this corridor was updated to a 2020 construction cost of 1.8B$
During 2019-2021, the NCC commissioned a study named the "Long Term Integrated Interprovincial Crossings Study" or LTIICS. This study was to take a broader view beyond the locating of a new road bridge. The LTIICS study recommended the first priority was to construct an LRT project from the west end of Gatineau to Gatineau's downtown and crossing into Ottawa's downtown. The study also concluded that a new bridge would be required in the east end at some point in time but did not make any recommendations about a timeframe. Instead it recommended that more data collection was needed to monitor transportation trends (particularly in light of the commuting pattern changes induced by the COVID pandemic) as well as to update studies on interprovincial truck traffic.
See Downtown Tunnel Study Details for more information