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East and west rail extensions behind schedule, light rail subcommittee hears

“If it takes longer, it takes longer. We really should be focusing on making sure the system is as stable as possible.”

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The east extension of Ottawa’s Stage 2 rail transit system is about seven weeks behind schedule, while the west extension is up to 17 months behind.

The forecast for completing the east extension is currently in the first quarter of 2025, compared to the agreed completion date of Nov. 26, 2024, according to a quarterly update for the city’s light rail sub-committee.

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On the west extension, from Tunney’s Pasture Station to Moodie and Algonquin stations, the city expects a delay of up to 17 months. The contractual completion date is May 25, 2025.

“We’re still looking for opportunities to recover some time, but obviously some of it is accumulated and we won’t be able to recover it,” Michael Morgan, the director of the city’s rail construction program, told the sub-committee.

An inquiry into the delay-plagued Confederation Line, released last November, said it was rushed into service in 2019 and raised questions about the financial and political pressures on that project.

The project agreement with East/West Connectors to design, build and finance the east-west extensions requires a 98.5-per-cent performance level out of the train system before handover, but Morgan said it was important to be cautious.

“We want to make sure there are no questions, no hesitation,” he said. “If it takes longer, it takes longer. We really should be focusing on making sure the system is as stable as possible.”

At this stage of the project, safety management is key, he said.  Project managers have taken into consideration safety measures that came up during the public inquiry.

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“We can’t afford to have a safety incident because that will absolutely push out the schedule if we have any sort of safety incident during construction,” Morgan said.

Among the details in the update:

• Significant changes are being made to the road configuration at Jeanne D’Arc Station, where there are four lanes of traffic with a centre median. This is a dangerous spot for pedestrians and cyclists, so the entire road is being rebuilt. This will take some time, but the results will be “fantastic,” Morgan told the subcommittee.

• Of the 25 kilometres of track that needs to be laid in the east end, 23.5 kilometres has been laid so far.

• Testing in the east extension is scheduled to begin this fall and will continue next year. Following the trial running, there will be a “dress rehearsal” in which several hundred people test out the stations and the trains. Customer service teams will also familiarize themselves with the stations.

• Delays on the cut-and-cover tunnel along the Kichi Zībī Mīkan (formerly called the Sir John A Macdonald Parkway) and Byron Linear Park are pushing the overall project completion date to late 2026.

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• Almost half of the roof of the 2.9-kilometre west-end tunnel has been completed. One of the last sections to be built is a 90-metre section at Cleary Avenue.

• The three-platform Lincoln Fields station is about 80 per cent complete and in “good shape,” Morgan said.

• A reopening date for the Pinecrest interchange remains up in the air, although signs in the area say it will be reopened in fall 2023. Partial and full openings are under consideration. That part of the project has been affected recent storms, Morgan said. It’s possible it will be reopened later this year, but it may also be pushed into next year.

• The Trillium Line handover from builders to the city is expected by the end of this year, but it has also experienced some delays, including stations still awaiting glass ordered from overseas and two stations awaiting hydro connections.

Members of the committee had questions about specifics of the project.

Bay Ward Coun. Theresa Kavanagh said residents in her ward were hoping to get access to a pedestrian bridge installed over the Queensway this summer before rail was in operation.

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The bridge will use elevators and it’s still a long way before they are connected and approved, Morgan responded. The situation can likely be revisited in another two years, he said.

There were also question about opening bike paths ahead of stations. Cyclists can see that the paths are paved, but they’re still blocked off, said Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney, chair of the sub-committee.

Some of the bike paths can’t be opened the public because they are used for construction access, Morgan said, but he added it could be possible to look at those paths on a case-by-case basis to see if there was an opportunity to open some of them earlier as work wrapped up.

Capital Ward Coun. Sean Menard had questions about the opening of a pedestrian bridge over the Rideau River to connect Carleton University to a National Capital Commission pathway.

The bridge is nearing completion, but an opening date has not been set. More paving and drainage work must be done, as well as electrical work, Morgan said. Without any hiccups, it could be open by the end of September.

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