Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder want city council approval to start the process of extending light rail to Barrhaven.
Watson gave council notice that the issue will be on the agenda at the next meeting. Technically, council will be asked to approve $600,000 for an environmental assessment, but symbolically it's a big deal to add Barrhaven to the list of communities that could get light rail in the future.
Harder has publicly complained that OC Transpo doesn't serve the 90,000 people of Barrhaven particularly well.
There is a dedicated bus transitway from Barrhaven Centre in the south to Hunt Club Road in the north. The only problem, said Harder, is that buses then "dump into the traffic on Woodroffe Avenue."
The proposed LRT would both convert the exiting bus transitway to rail, and add a segregated rail line from Hunt Club to Baseline Road, where a new station should be built by 2023 as part of the $3-billion Phase 2 extension of LRT.
Inspired by east end colleagues
Harder appears to have taken her inspiration from east end councillors — in particular Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais — who worked together, and with their provincial and federal counterparts, to get LRT extended all the way to Trim Road earlier than originally planned.
"They've been very effective, and good for them," said Harder.
When asked if having Nepean MPP Lisa MacLeod, who represents Barrhaven, and who used to work with Harder, in the newly elected PC government, Harder smiled.
"It's my happy day!" she said. "It's extremely fortunate that Lisa MacLeod will be the kingpin here."
Rail network expanding
The first stage of Ottawa's rail network, running east to west from Blair Station to Tunney's Pasture, has been delayed by about six months. The new goal is for an opening by the end of November.
Stage 2 of the project would extend light rail east to Trim Road, west to Moodie Drive, southwest to Algonquin College and south to Earl Armstrong Road, with a scheduled opening in 2023.
Beyond that, a future western light rail extension through Kanata and Stittsville has been approved, while Watson has talked about wanting to get a rail link to Gatineau up and running over the Prince of Wales Bridge around the same time as the Kanata extension.
This week, Gatineau's Société de transport de l'Outaouais started a study of its own on transportation between its core and west end that includes a potential link with Ottawa's light rail system.
Uncertainty for other neighbourhoods
But throwing a possible Barrhaven LRT link into Ottawa's transit mix raises uncertainty for other communities.
The LRT extension to Kanata, which isn't planned until sometime after 2030, is estimated to cost $1.85 billion. If the Barrhaven LRT is cheaper, could it jump the priority line? And what about the former Liberal government's promise to chip in $50 million for an LRT extension into Riverside South? Could that money be redirected to other transit projects instead?
"I'm not trying to pit people against other people," Harder said. "I just want a fair playing field."