Should the feds 'save' the Alexandra Bridge? Some Ottawa-Gatineau candidates think so

Members of the Alexandra Bridge Coalition, including those above, are calling on the federal government to delay demo of the current bridge and study the possibility of maintaining it, but closing it to motorists. Photo: Errol McGihon / Postmedia

Saturday, September 18, 2021

OTTAWA CITIZEN, by Taylor Blewett

A group working to dissuade the federal government from its plan to tear down and replace the aged Alexandra Bridge, a key element of the National Capital Region’s transportation network and cityscape, has been pushing to make the matter an election issue and for local candidates to declare where they stand.

There has been dissent, apparently, within the local Liberal caucus over whether plowing forward with the plan to swap out the old bridge for a new one is the way to go. And, according to candidate responses to the Alexandra Bridge Coalition, published online, candidates from other parties also object to the current course of action.

The coalition is calling for the feds to delay demolition and study the possibility of maintaining the existing Alexandra Bridge, but closing it to motorists. They’re arguing climate considerations and heritage conservation, as well as cost — they believe a 2018 government study underestimates bridge replacement price tags and want updated costing for all options for its future.

Evidently, it’s a cause that Ottawans are invested in. The coalition’s membership ranges from heritage and architecture to transit-oriented and climate-focused organizations, plus community associations.

As coalition co-spokesperson Jordan Ferraro put it, “It’s been a symphony of six different generations that are responding overwhelmingly in support of keeping the bridge.”

The federally-owned crossing connects Ottawa’s ByWard Market with the neighbourhood and greenspace surrounding the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau.

According to bridge steward Public Services and Procurement Canada, the 120-year-old structure is reaching the end of its lifecycle. Daily it supports about nine per cent of vehicular traffic over interprovincial bridges in the national capital region, and 34 per cent of pedestrians and cyclists traversing the Ottawa River.

“The time has come to look at a green future, to re-evaluate post-COVID the decision that was made in 2019,” said Ferraro, who said the coalition envisioned a repurposing of the bridge for active transportation and a climate-friendly tramway to shuttle people from one side to the other.

It was the federal government’s 2019 budget that directed the bridge replacement and the National Capital Commission is working with PSPC to bring that to fruition. The coming years will see public consultation and design work, with site work slated to begin in 2028 and a new bridge completed by 2032.

“Past and present rehabilitations have had limited impact on the overall condition of the structure, and, despite all this work, the bridge continues to deteriorate and will continue to deteriorate with or without vehicular traffic,” PSPC spokesperson Michèle LaRose wrote in an email to this newspaper on Friday. And the bridge’s permanent closure to such traffic, LaRose said, “would result in significant congestion during peak hours on the other interprovincial bridges and their connecting road networks.”

The Liberal incumbents whose ridings are home to the Ottawa and Gatineau ends of the bridge appear to have taken different positions on plans for its future, at least recently.

Ottawa–Vanier Liberal incumbent Mona Fortier told the Alexandra Bridge Coalition that the replacement decision was taken to improve interprovincial transportation in the capital region and that proceeding with it would provide lasting economic benefits to surrounding communities.

She’s opposed by the riding’s NDP candidate, Lyse-Pascale Inamuco, whose response to the coalition said she considered it essential to preserve “the cultural heritage” of the bridge and she doesn’t think enough effort has been put into studying its conversion into a piece of green infrastructure.

There has been no direct reply from Hull-Aylmer Liberal incumbent Greg Fergus among responses published by the coalition, but they do reference a Le Droit article from August reporting that Fergus supported conservation of the bridge. This newspaper reached out to Fergus to independently confirm this, but his campaign declined to make him available.

Hull-Aylmer’s NDP, Conservative and Bloc Québécois candidates all said they thought the bridge should be preserved.

Back in Ottawa, Yavar Hameed, an NDP candidate in Ottawa West–Nepean, said he strongly believed “there are a number of ways that the Alexandra bridge can be repurposed without being removed” and found the tramway proposal “extremely intriguing.”

Kanata-Carleton Conservative candidate Jennifer McAndrew said she hadn’t been following the matter closely, but wanted to learn more, while Ottawa Centre’s NDP and Green candidates both said they’d support postponing demolition until “due diligence” studies was completed, as the coalition had called for.


For more information, visit SAVE THE ALEXANDRA BRIDGE on the Heritage Ottawa website.