Ottawa Senators argue new west-end roundabout will worsen traffic after games

Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, Ont., on Aug. 11, 2016.
Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, Ont., on Aug. 11, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

The Ottawa Senators tried and failed on Thursday to convince the City of Ottawa’s planning committee to postpone a plan to construct a new roundabout on Palladium Drive in the west end, which the club argues will worsen traffic congestion flowing from the Canadian Tire Centre after hockey games.

“You’re taking the best thing about our exit and making it worse,” Brian Crombie, chief financial officer of the Ottawa Senators, told councillors.

Crombie came to Ottawa city hall to challenge a proposed agreement that would allow a developer to front-end a section of a new arterial road that would connect a massive mixed-use subdivision it plans to build just west of the NHL hockey arena to Palladium Drive and Highway 417.

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The 58-hectare site for that future subdivision – which would introduce more than 700 new homes – currently has no road access and can’t move forward without it.

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The developer has therefore applied for what’s called a “front-ending agreement” so it can pay to get the roadway started. Under the agreement, the municipality would commit to refunding the cost of the project later, using revenue from development charges.

The section of roadway and the roundabout that the developer would kickstart would modify the curvature of Palladium Drive near the auto park that connects to on- and off-ramps for Highway 417 and the Palladium Drive overpass.

A roundabout would be installed to allow for west and south access into the future subdivision, as well as north access to the highway.

A sketch of a proposed new road and modifications to Palladium Drive in Kanata. The roundabout installed would provide access to a future subdivision on the site immediately southwest of Palladium Drive.
A sketch of a proposed new road and modifications to Palladium Drive in Kanata. The roundabout installed would provide access to a future subdivision on the site immediately southwest of Palladium Drive. City of Ottawa

On Thursday, Crombie argued that the city hasn’t accounted for pre- and post-game traffic around the Canadian Tire Centre (CTC) in its plan for the roundabout.

“Getting out of the lots is already one of the top, if not number one, complaint(s) by our fans and the proposed roadway will add additional time and congestion to the post-event time period,” Crombie argued, reading out a statement from Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk.

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Almost 2,400 vehicles exit the arena’s parking lots onto Palladium Drive after every game, within a 45-minute period, Crombie told councillors.

He claimed a traffic study that the Senators commissioned showed the proposed modifications to Palladium Drive would increase drivers’ travel time between Huntmar Drive and Highway 417 by four minutes. That estimate doesn’t take into account the “impact” of pedestrians crossing the roundabout, the Senators executive argued.

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“The city has failed to properly consider the legitimate concerns of Capital Sports and the Ottawa Senators and its over one million patrons made over a number of months,” Crombie said.

“We would ask that the city work with us to arrive at a solution that will serve both the land developer and our organization.”

The committee, however, didn’t seem convinced by Crombie’s arguments, which triggered a tense back-and-forth between councillors and the executive.

Several councillors suggested that a solution to traffic congestion around the arena would be to get more fans travelling to and from games on transit and questioned why the Senators won’t enter into a partnership with OC Transpo for game days, similar to the one the transit agency has with Bluesfest and the Ottawa Redblacks at Lansdowne Park.

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Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais said the city offered the Senators that type of deal — adding a surcharge to tickets in exchange for free transit to and from games — years ago, claiming the club “rebuffed” the proposal.

Crombie argued that partnership would force fans to pay for free transit when the “vast majority” of them get to the arena by car and would ultimately hurt the Senators’ revenue, which he claimed ranks “at the bottom at the NHL.”

Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt didn’t buy that, arguing that the transit agreement “works.”

“It leads to less congestion, it leads to more people using transit,” Moffatt said. “We’ve seen it time and time again in this city. It does work.”

Crombie disagreed, saying the system wouldn’t work in car-reliant Kanata, “until and unless” light-rail is expanded to the west end — a remark that prompted a sarcastic reply from Moffatt.

“OK. Thank you for your open-mindedness,” the councillor said.

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In the end, the planning committee unanimously approved the front-ending agreement for the Palladium Drive modifications and arterial road construction on Thursday.

The agreement still requires approval from Ottawa city council, which next meets on Dec. 11, 2019.

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A staff report to the planning committee said the cost of the project is just shy of $10.2 million.

Crombie said the Senators have proposed an alternative to the roadway modifications that would cost $6 million, but representatives for the developer argued the proposals “make no sense to us” and would actually cost upwards of $20 million.

Stittsville Coun. Glen Gower, who sits on the planning committee, said the alternate plan proposed “a kind of temporary access” off Huntmar Drive — but he argued that corridor is “already over capacity” and upgrades would be costly.

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Gower said the city is trying to balance the needs of arena-goers with those of current and future residents and he believes the committee made the right call.

He said the Senators’ concerns have been taken into consideration during the planning process and argued the committee didn’t see any evidence on Thursday that supported the club’s claims about a much lengthier commute on Palladium Drive after hockey games.

The road modifications are an “important project” in the city’s transportation plan for his community, which is “behind schedule,” the councillor said.

“This is the first stage of finishing a long-overdue arterial road that serves the south part of Stittsville and also Kanata as well,” Gower told reporters.

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The road and roundabout are just a section of what would become an extension of Robert Grant Avenue in Stittsville, a suburb adjacent to Kanata and south of the Canadian Tire Centre.

Once built in its entirety, the Robert Grant Avenue extension would snake north past Maple Grove Road and cut west across Huntmar Drive into the proposed commercial and residential subdivision.

The future subdivision would be bordered by the highway to the north, Huntmar Drive to the east, Maple Grove Road to the south and a currently non-existent extension of Stittsville Main Street to the west.

The application for the major subdivision was submitted in July 2016 and is now approaching draft approval, according to the staff report.