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NCC prefers Ottawa-Gatineau tram to run along Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill

Pedestrians make their way along Wellington Street in Ottawa on Thursday, April 13, 2017. A proposed interprovincial tramway could see the street transformed for at-grade rail. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The National Capital Commission said Friday that it prefers a street-level route as opposed to an underground option in Ottawa for an eventual interprovincial tram system.

The Crown corporation in charge of federal assets in the National Capital Region said it has finished its analysis of a proposed tramway connecting Gatineau, Que., to downtown Ottawa via the Portage Bridge.

It determined at-grade rail along Wellington Street would be the preferred option over a more expensive tunnel option that would descend below Sparks Street.

wellington street route
A proposed route for the Ottawa-Gatineau tram link featuring an at-grade integration on Wellington Street. via STO

The project from Gatineau’s transit agency, the Société de Transport de l’Outaouais, is eyed for completion sometime in the next decade but still requires federal funding commitments.

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The NCC said further consultation is still needed, as well as studies on impacts on traffic and transit.

Among the possibilities for a Wellington Street path are a mix of trams and vehicle traffic along the road or removing cars from the equation entirely, opening up the promenade in front of Parliament for pedestrians, cyclists and transit.

Opting for the Wellington Street route also leaves open the potential of an interprovincial loop, a grassroots proposal that has regained steam in recent months.

Read more: Ottawa-Gatineau ‘loop’ dominates talk as staff prefer Sparks Street tunnel for tram connection

While the tram is meant to ease the burden of interprovincial commuters crossing the Ottawa River on a daily basis, some have questioned the knock-on impacts that removing lanes of traffic from Wellington Street could have on congestion in the downtown core.

“I’m very concerned that we’re solving one problem and creating five,” said Orléans Coun. Matt Luloff in a November 2020 transportation committee meeting on the issue.

A rail line cutting across Wellington could also limit turning access into the Parliamentary Precinct, a concern that would be subject to review by federal security officials.

A 2020 survey of roughly 1,500 residents in the region indicated “strong support” for the tram to descend beneath Sparks Street, a position echoed by City of Ottawa staff.

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Though undoubtedly more costly, the underground option would be easier to connect to Ottawa’s existing light-rail transit system and would have better protection from harsh weather conditions.

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