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‘It certainly won’t be done in my lifetime,’ Barrhaven councillor says of rail crossing underpass

A 3D illustration of the grade-separation of the Jockvale Road multi-use pathway proposed by City of Ottawa staff.
A 3D illustration of the grade-separation of the Jockvale Road multi-use pathway proposed by City of Ottawa staff. City of Ottawa

The transportation committee at the City of Ottawa approved the functional design for a $6.5-million pedestrian and cycling underpass at a rail crossing in Barrhaven on Wednesday – but with no city cash available to fund the project, the city councillor for the area is concerned it’ll be decades before her residents get a safer crossing.

There’s haven’t been any injuries or accidents at the Jockvale Road and VIA Rail line junction to date, according to Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder, but she argued the crossing is getting busier and busier as the population of Barrhaven swells.

“Safety should trump something at some time,” Harder said.

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The need to better protect the pedestrian and cycling pathway at the Jockvale crossing was identified in a 2017 city study that recommended grade separating five different rail crossings in Barrhaven, a suburban community southwest of downtown Ottawa.

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The Jockvale site was ultimately ranked as the lowest priority of the five, “based on the greatest exposure of vehicle [and] train traffic,” according to a staff report submitted to the transportation committee.

The 2017 study found that 19 trains cross Jockvale Road every day, on average, but that rail traffic is expected to increase to 21 trains by 2021 and up to 37 trains per day by 2031 as VIA moves to high-frequency rail service, the report said.

Right now, the city figures up to 200 pedestrians and cyclists cross the train tracks at Jockvale every day.

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Transportation planning staff have since completed an environmental assessment of grade separating the multi-use pathway, which runs parallel to Jockvale Road on the west side. In their report, they laid out four possible solutions but said they favoured a full grade separation with an underpass because it best “removes conflicts” at the crossing.

This was the most expensive option at $6.5 million. In addition to that, staff also recommended some temporary modifications to the crossing, to the tune of $70,000.

But the money for all that doesn’t exist in the city’s master plan for Ottawa’s transportation network.

“What I was hoping for was something that would be a solution now and not necessarily … when we might have the money to put in the grade separation,” Harder said. “There isn’t a solution today unless we start thinking differently and I think that we have to prioritize safety.”

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Staff said there’s little wiggle room around the scale of work necessary to build an underpass at the site and the $6.5-million price tag.

“It costs the way it costs because it’s at grade right now and we have to go underneath. As we go underneath, there’s a major sewer line that’s right at eye level, so that has to be relocated because of the grade separation,” said Vivi Chi, the city’s director of transportation planning.

The other options staff mentioned in their report, but didn’t recommend, were to do nothing at all; close the current, at-grade multi-use pathway; or “enhance” the pathway with “infrastructure improvements.”

“If we can’t do anything else then … [the project] certainly won’t be done in my lifetime, which is unfortunate,” Harder said.
An illustration of the current multi-use pathway that runs parallel to Jockvale Road and through the rail crossing in Barrhaven.
An illustration of the current multi-use pathway that runs parallel to Jockvale Road and through the rail crossing in Barrhaven. City of Ottawa

In a news release following Wednesday’s committee meeting, the city said “a planned update to the city’s transportation master plan in 2022 would consider the timing and priority of this project.”

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Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury asked Chi who could pay for the proposed upgrades and how the project could be accelerated, given that Transport Canada regulates the rail line and the city regulates the road network.

“This is not something that we have an answer for right now but it’s something that we will continue to pursue as we look for funding sources to implement this project,” Chi said.

Location of the Jockvale rail crossing in Barrhaven, southwest of downtown Ottawa.
Location of the Jockvale rail crossing in Barrhaven, southwest of downtown Ottawa. City of Ottawa