Downtown Tunnel - 417 to M-C Bridge

Since all efforts towards a new interprovincial bridge were halted in Jun 2013 focus then shifted towards a downtown bypass tunnel connecting the 417 to the existing Macdonald-Cartier bridge as an alternative.

For a background/history on the 2007-2013 interprovincial crossings project (The Bridge Study), these pages provide more details: 2007-2013 interprovincial bridge study, the final 3 shortlisted bridge corridors

Downtown bypass tunnel: Overview

Sustainable Solutions \ Solutions durables is focused on finding a sustainable and acceptable solution to the long term problem of thousands of heavy trucks per day transiting through Ottawa's downtown communities. One such alternative is a downtown bypass tunnel connecting the 417 to the southern approach of the existing Macdonald-Cartier Bridge. A more detailed discussion exploring issues such as costs, dangerous goods, precedents in other cities, etc can be found at this downtown bypass tunnel page.

This alternative was raised by multiple members of the public during the 2006/2007 Phase 1 consultation of the NCC Interprovincial Crossings Study (in combination with improved transit). It was screened out early in the process and with little consultation or research by the Study team. This was justified primarily because it did not meet the terms of reference requirements of providing sufficient capacity for the projected number of incremental cars crossing the Ottawa River during the rush hour peak in the next 20 to 50 years.

The premature screening out of this alternative meant that the full picture in terms of possible approaches to solving the NCR's interprovincial transportation issues was not available to the public or to future decision makers.

In light of the considerable challenges and weaknesses that became apparent for all of the short listed bridge corridors as the 2007-2013 Study progressed (more fully described in the Ongoing_Issues pages), the early screening out of the tunnel alternative was not justifiable. In fact, the need for a more thorough and fair assessment of the proposed tunnel was all the more justified given its relative strengths (compared to the short listed bridge alternatives) in meeting numerous other requirements that were listed in the 2007-2013 Study's terms_of_reference.

In 2013, Seven years after starting, the Interprovinical Crossings Study was halted when the Province of Ontario withdrew it's support. In Oct of 2013 the City of Ottawa and the Province of Ontario jointly announced that they would fund a feasibility study for a downtown tunnel focused on removing trucks from the downtown surface streets, exactly as proposed by Sustainable Solutions in 2008.

For a detailed description of this downtown bypass tunnel as well as a discussion of the objections often raised against considering this alternative follow this link.

Update: Sep 2016: Council Recommends Tunnel Environmental Assessment

Following presentation of the results of the 2016 Tunnel Feasibility Study to Ottawa City Council on Sep 14, 2016 council voted 21-2 to set aside 2.5m$ in the 2017 budget for a detailed environmental assessment (EA) for a 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. The EA would only proceed if the other levels of government agreed to participate.

Subsequently the Province of Ontario committed it's 2.5m$ share however no commitment was ever secured from the federal government and a detailed Environmental Assessment did not proceed.

Previous History:

Aug 2016: Tunnel Study Completed - Tunnel Feasible

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 it's southern portal off the Vanier Parkway at Coventry Rd and continue under the Rideau River, East Sandy Hill, East Lowertown with th e 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.

The Study report and technical appendices can be found at this link on the City of Ottawa's website:

Apr 2014: Tunnel Study RFP Released

The City of Ottawa released in late April 2014 the RFP seeking a consultant to carry out a feasibility study for a downtown truck tunnel intended to move trucks between the 417 and the Macdonald Cartier bridge and removing them from the current route on Waller, Rideau, and King Edward Ave. The date for firms to respond with their proposals was May 15, 2014 and the study is expected to be completed and available to the public by early 2016. Pages 7 to 13 of this Tunnel Study RFP document outline the scope of work to be undertaken in the study.

Nov 2013 Status: Funding Committed for Downtown Tunnel Study

The Province of Ontario and the City of Ottawa have finally agreed to jointly co-fund a 750,000$ study led by the City of Ottawa to analyze the feasibility of a downtown tunnel connecting the 417 to the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge. The Study is expected to be completed over the next 12-15 months.

The City's 2-page backgrounder document is an excellent summary of the proposed scope of the study.

From the document: There will be two parts to the study of a tunnel alternative:

Phase One: The first part of the study will assess the technical feasibility of constructing a tunnel and its portals; impacts of portals on adjacent land use, transportation facilities and buildings; ventilation requirements and impacts; potential conflicts with existing utilities and the Confederation Line; geotechnical analysis; the feasibility of using the tunnel by trucks carrying dangerous goods; other relevant tunnelling issues, and construction costs.

Phase Two: If a tunnel solution is deemed technically feasible based on the analysis completed in Phase One, the second phase will go into more depth, and look at issues such as the likely utilization of the tunnel by long-distance trucks and cars; potential community impacts; as well as the potential for re-purposing surface streets.

Proposed Tunnel Description - Written: 2008

A tunnel from the 417 via Nicholas street for example, and dropping below grade south of the Laurier intersection would be approximately 1.8 km before reaching the southern approach of the Macdonald-Cartier bridge. This tunnel would be capable of removing nearly 100% of all interprovincial heavy through trucks from the downtown and would accomplish this without shifting them to any other established neighbourhoods or forcing lengthy detours on business.

In addition to carrying all the interprovincial trucks, this tunnel could also be capable of carrying over 20,000 cars per day which currently travel on combinations of King Edward, Nicholas-Waller-Rideau-Cumberland/Dalhousie, or St. Patrick-Vanier Parkway in order to reach the 417. For drivers of those 20,000 cars it would eliminate up to 10 traffic lights (depending on which route used to the 417) resulting in significant savings in travel time. It would also remove congestion on the access roads to the Macdonald-Cartier bridge enabling more vehicles to cross the bridge than is possible today thus taking advantage of what is currently spare and unusable capacity of that bridge.

The following charts summarize these advantages by way of comparison with the short listed bridge alternatives.

Tunnel-Bridge Comparison

In short, a tunnel such as the one described here could transform the downtown of Ottawa. It would provide advantages to downtown residents, to drivers, to truckers & business, as well as to east end communities in both Ottawa and Gatineau which would be spared the "King Edward-ization" (ie. urban decay) that large numbers of heavy trucks would surely bring along a new bridge corridor.

Editors Note: The cost estimate in the slide above was based on a potential single tube two lane tunnel 1.8km long from Nicholas street to the Macdonald-Cartier bridge. The 2016 Tunnel Feasibility Study recommended a different tunnel route of 3.4 km length via two parallel tunnels adding up to 6.8km of tunneling. The estimated cost for this recommended tunnel was 1.7B$ to 2.0B$ (2015$),

Downtown bypass tunnel: detailed discussion

This tunnel alternative as proposed by Sustainable Solutions in 2008 is presented in more detail exploring issues such as costs, dangerous goods, precedents in other cities, etc at this downtown bypass tunnel page.

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