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LRT Plan Phase 1 - Downtown Tunnel East-West

Latest Status

Next Steps:

 Aug 2011: Provincial Environmental Assessment Process submitted and Notice to Proceed
                 received from Ontario Ministry of the Environment.
 Sep 2011: RFQ stage closes
 Oct  2011: RFP issued to 4 selected construction consortiums
 Dec 2011: Report submitted to Federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA)
Dec 2012: RFP closes

Update 3: Jul 2011 - New Tunnel Alignment along Queen St. & Costing Update

The following paragraphs are extracted from this Implementation Update to Council - Jul 14, 2011.  

The adjusted alignment runs underneath Queen Street instead of tunnelling deep underneath building foundations with extensive underground parking structures. The result is a far shallower tunnel that is substantially less expensive to build and service.  This reduction in the required depth of the tunnel also provides a better overall ridership experience for the customer.

The total project estimate, with the improved tunnel alignment and other value engineering cost savings to date, is $1.74 billion in 2009 dollars or $2.115 billion in construction dollars (dollars that have been escalated to year of construction, and account for the dollar’s value in the years that they are spent).


Full responsibility for construction, design and system integration will rest with the construction consortium. Private sector teams will be asked to provide turnkey Design-Build-Finance-Maintain (DBFM) proposals with a fixed-price to construct and maintain the system for a minimum of 15 years. The teams will be afforded flexibility in presenting a construction plan they stand behind from a budget and schedule perspective.

With the improved alignment it will be possible to require a fixed-price contract in the Request for Proposals (RFP) process. Market soundings and advice from experts indicate full risk transfer under the previous alignment would have been difficult to achieve.

The selection of a DBFM approach brings equity and debt partners into the project for better overall accountability and higher value for the City. By including an element of long-term financing the City will harness the full benefit of private sector management and innovation. The City will require the winning proponent to finance up to $400 million of the construction cost. This will ensure equity partners remain at risk throughout construction and the maintenance term. Market soundings and the experience of Infrastructure Ontario indicate that the inclusion of a financing component, together with the use of output specifications which incentivize Proponents to optimize whole-life costing, reduces overall planning, design, project management, and construction costs due competitive pressure on each Proponent and the up-front due diligence conducted by lenders and equity providers drives a better price and better result during the RFP process.

Update 2: Spring 2011 - Project Acceleration

Also during 2010-2011 the LRT Project Office has proposed changes to how the project would be awarded to reduce the delays between phases of the project and to shorten the construction phase by 1 year.  As a result, the newly projected date for first ridership is spring 2018.  Details of this LRT project acceleration plan can be view in this report to the City's Finance Committee.

Update 1: Fall 2010 - Tunnel Shortening at Ottawa U.

During the course of 2010-2011 preliminary design and geo-technical studies have been ongoing.  The result of this work has been a proposed change to shorten the downtown tunnel to emerge on the east just south of Laurier Ave before the proposed Campus station. As a result, this station would now be located above ground as opposed to below ground as in the original plan.

Ongoing status updates on this project are provided by the City of Ottawa on the Light Rail Implementation site.

LRT Project, by the numbers

  - 493m$ - tunnel
  - 284m$ - stations (includes 3 underground stations)
  - 116m$ - maintenance facility
  - 813m$ - tracks, LRT systems, LRT vehicles, tunnel ventilation

Total costs: 1.72B$ (when escalated to year of actual construction = 2.12B$)

LRT system yearly operational cost in 2018 = 35m$ 
 - 17m$  - train maintenance
 -  5m $  - train operators
 -  7m $  - electricity cost
 -  6m $  - other (control centre, etc)

Operational Metrics
 - 10-15 minutes faster trips through downtown at rush hour vs buses
 - 50 million trips per year using the downtown stations
 - ridership on the Tunneys-Blair section of OC Transpo
        - 2011:  39 million (on bus transitway)
        - 2021:  51 million (on LRT line)
        - 2031:  76 million (on LRT line)
 - 40% of all transit trips in the city will use the LRT for all or part of the journey
 - 9% expected increase in transit ridership in the year the LRT goes into operation
 - 10m litres / yr in reduced fuel usage (by reduction in number of bus trips)
 - 94,000 tons of reduced Co2 emissions annually (in year 2031)
 - 4,600 tons of reduced air contaminants annually (in year 2031)
 - 5,600 tons of reduced salt consumption annually 

Measuring the Benefits:
 - 20,000 person years of employment during construction
 - 1.1B$ savings (over 30 years) vs providing equivalent service via buses
 - 1.5B$ in net benefit (over 30 years) via reduced commuting times
 -   .4B$ in net benefit (over 30 years) from fewer road accidents

LRT Project Overview:

Phase 1 of the DOTT plan consists of the following components:

a)       a 3.2 km long east-west  tunnel roughly following the current transitway route between Bronson Ave and U of O campus station (cost approx 777m$).  The tunnel route includes a broad northward curve to accommodate  a stop nearby the intersection of Rideau and Sussex streets.  The depth of the 3 downtown stations in this tunnel are projected to be approx 10 stories  below ground.

b)       A 12.5km rail line extending in the west to Tunney’s Pasture approximately following the current transitway route and in the east extending to Blair road also following the current transitway route and associated LRT vehicles. (cost approx 813m$)

c)       A rail storage and maintenance facility in the east end (cost approx 116m$)

This would be considered as phase 1 of a multi-phase plan.  Phase 1 would cost approx 2.3B$ and is projected to start operation in 2019.  The cost of the latter phases would add another 4B$ extending the western terminus to Algonquin College as well as adding a north-south electric rail line roughly following the route of the current diesel O-Train (but extending it further southward to Riverside South).  These phases are targeted to be in operation by 2031.

Further details of this project can be found on the Ottawa Light Rail Implementation site

This plan received Environmental Assessment approval from the Province of Ontario in Summer 2010.  The City now is preparing to tender for a firm to come up with a detailed design.  This would stretch into 2011 and a further tender for construction start would not happen until later 2011 or 2012. 

The plan was expected to be funded by 1/3 contributions (700m$ each) from the Ottawa, Ontario, and Canadian governments.  Ontario and Federal governments ended up committing 600m$ each leaving the City of Ottawa to fund the balance (900m$).  A more detailed and final cost estimate for the project will not be available until later in the detailed design phase (2011).

CCC Position

For downtown residents there are some pros and some cons to this plan.  By burying the proposed LRT 10 stories deep into a tunnel, and reducing the number of stops in the downtown compared to today’s transitway,  downtown residents will find the system less to convenient access.

The construction of this deep tunnel, with underground stations 'mined' out from the inside not only loads a lot of the cost of the LRT project upfront (735m$), it also adds considerable cost overrun risk, and its complexity means that the first ridership on the system will not occur until 2019.  The CCC expressed these concerns in this DOTT letter to council.  The CCC at the time called for a more thorough investigation into the feasibility of a surface LRT based solution in the downtown.

Costs and Affordability

Dec 2013 Update:

During the update of the 2013 Transportation Master Plan, an LRT Phase 2 was envisioned which extended the Ph1 project further to the east and west and sooner than what had been planned when the LRT Phase 1 was committed.

The total cost of this Phase 2 plan (including BRT projects) was forecasted at 4B$ by 2031.  The following 2013 TMP Affordability Document and 2013 TMP Affordability Presentation were provided which explain how this Phase 2 plan would be funded.

Dec 2011 View: 

The City has concluded that the current transit plan to 2029 which includes extension of the LRT in the west to Algonquin College together with an additional line to the south can be financed without any increases in property taxes.  The total cost of this plan to 2029 (including incremental expansions of the bus network) is estimated at 6.6B$.  (This number assumes inflation throughout the period of 2.5%).   

This 'funding without tax increases' rests on several major assumptions:

  • Firstly that over this 20 year period the Federal and Provincial governments will provide 2.9B$ in construction funding (they have so far committed 1.2B$).  
  • Secondly that in addition to this another 71M$ per year of federal and provincial gas tax revenue will continue to be received totalling 1.4B by 2029, 
  • Thirdly that the City will take on 1.1B$ in debt and finance that debt mostly (about 80% of it) using revenues collected from development charges.  
  • and that this development charge revenue available to finance the debt will be increasing substantially over this 20 year period.
If there are significant changes to any of the above major assumptions, or if the overall cost of the project changes significantly from the current 6.6B$ estimate then the implications on property taxes will be considerable different than the no impact scenario currently described.

The most detailed information made publically available regarding this long term cost and financing of the complete multi-phase transit plan is in this Oct 2009 LRT Cost and Affordability memo which was subsequently updated in 2011 as part of the City's Long Range Financial Plan IV - Transit.

Bus Network Post LRT Operation

System Overview

OC Transpo has produced a document which outlines the ways in which the OC Transpo network is planned to change in order to integrate with the east-west LRT system which is planned for operation in 2019.  The core idea is that the system will evolve to a trunk (the LRT) and feeder (bus routes) system complemented with a grid of cross-town bus routes.  

The document estimates the growth in ridership by 2020 and compares the cost of meeting that ridership demand with the current BRT only system vs the LRT system integrated into this proposed trunk and feeder network.  The conclusion is that the new LRT network could carry this 2020 passenger load with a 20% cost savings which is a savings of approximately 100m$/year.  The document then goes on to describe how the network would be managed during the time while the transitway is shut down during construction.

This link will take you to this OC Transpo Network Evolution  document ....  or click on this link to download it (2.1MB)

Downtown Bus Network

OC Transpo has also provided an initial proposal of how the downtown bus route network will be adapted once the east-west LRT and downtown tunnel is in operation in 2019.  It was originally written to address concerns expressed by the Rideau Centre that their pedestrian traffic would be negatively impacted by the proposed downtown tunnel routing.  Of particular note in this document is that the estimate for the number of buses operating on Albert and Slater streets after the LRT is in operation would be in the order of 1000 per day (vs 3000 per day prior to LRT).  One of the main reasons for the proposed downtown tunnel was to remove buses from Albert and Slater streets.  Is the continuation of 1000 buses per day on these streets acceptable given the $730m investment in a deep tunnel whose purpose was to get buses out of the downtown?  Read the details of this proposed post LRT 2019 downtown bus network here.

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John Verbaas,
Nov 3, 2010, 6:31 PM