Budget 2021: NCC to study Ottawa-Gatineau tram possibilities

OTTAWA — A new office at the National Capital Commission will specifically look into a proposed tramway between Ottawa and Gatineau.

The federal Liberal government unveiled the plans for the new interprovincial transit office in its 2021 budget on Monday.

“The project office will work to study and plan for potential interprovincial tramway connections between Ottawa and Gatineau, in addition to consulting and collaborating with municipal, provincial, and transportation partners,” the budget document says.

The impetus for a possible interprovincial rail network in the Ottawa-Gatineau area is coming from the Quebec side of the river.

A plan from the city of Gatineau and the Societe de transport de l’Outaouais would run a rail line over the Portage bridge into downtown Ottawa. Under that plan, the line would run either on Wellington Street or in a tunnel under Sparks Street.

The city of Ottawa has expressed preference for the Sparks Street option.

The government also said it’s establishing a dedicated joint office within Public Services and Procurement Canada and the National Capital Commission, to address the need for an additional interprovincial crossing.

The previous federal budget called for two new interprovincial bridges to be built between Ottawa and Gatineau, but provided few further details.

The federal government is also setting aside $35 million for the NCC to “support the acquisition and upkeep of federal assets, green infrastructure, and spaces in the National Capital Region.”

No money for airport station

A major item of interest for Ottawa missing in the budget: money for a light rail transit station at the airport.

The airport authority said last year that it needed a $13.5 million from the federal government to be able to afford a station for the Trillium Line at the airport.

But there was no mention of that money in Monday’s budget.

High-frequency rail project

The federal budget also breathes new life into a long-proposed high-frequency rail project.

The multi-billion-dollar project would connect Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. It would create dedicated tracks for passenger trains, instead of the current arrangement that sees Via Rail share the tracks with freight trains.

Budget 2021 is devoting $4.4 million to Transport Canada and Via Rail to “advange due diligence and to de-risk the project.”

It’s also setting aside $491 million over the next six years for Via Rail “infrastructure investments that would support the overall success of the high frequency rail project.”

More money for National Arts Centre

The budget promises $17.2 million for the National Arts Centre to help with financial pressures caused by COVID-19, and ensure the NAC will “continue to support artists and celebrate Canadian culture.”

Tackling the Phoenix pay system backlog

The federal budget also sets aside $23 million toward eliminating the backlog of transactions under the troubled Phoenix pay system. The goal is to have that backlog eliminated by December 2022.

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