NCC Blunders

Champlain Bridge

Champlain Bridge study another NCC gaffe

The Ottawa Citizen -- Final
City December 13, 1994

Champlain Bridge study another NCC gaffe
Randall Denley

What in the world is the National Capital Commission thinking about in spending $450,000 on a study of the Champlain Bridge?

We already have a continuing study of long-term crossing needs, a study of interprovincial commuter rail and a proposal for a bridge far to the east.

Now the NCC wants to study what it admits would be at best a short-term fix at the Champlain site.

Among the pressing questions the study will answer is whether the bridge needs tolls or a third lane.

Regional government has already rejected expansion of the Champlain Bridge's capacity. An interprovincial panel studying bridges and transportation has rejected it. Community associations have rejected it.

Outside of the NCC, it's difficult to find anyone who wants a bridge expansion that would disrupt existing communities. Ekos Research Associates found that interprovincial bridges were considered a major problem by one per cent of residents of Ottawa-Carleton.

Even on the Quebec side, only 10 per cent rated the bridges as a big problem.

Everyone seems perfectly clear on the concept except the NCC.

Other than increasing urban sprawl on the Quebec side of the bridge and pleasing the appropriate land speculators, what would a wider Champlain Bridge accomplish?

Well, for one thing, the NCC says the extra lane might be restricted to high-occupancy vehicles. In Ottawa, a high-occupancy vehicle is a cabinet minister and his chauffeur speeding to one of Aylmer's fine golf courses.

Finding the right question

The main reason for the study, the commission says, is its legal obligation to look at all options under the environmental assessment process.

Sounds good, but it seems someone at the NCC must have decided that the question is how to make the most use of a river crossing at the Champlain site, not how best to repair the old bridge.

If the NCC was going to resurface one of its parkways, would it spend a year studying the merits of adding lanes and making it into a toll road? Not likely.

The NCC also claims that the issue has never been studied before, but there are four previous studies that look at significant aspects of the Champlain situation.

Given all the NCC's experience with skating rinks, one would think they would recognize thin ice when they see it. The bridge study shows all the signs of being another NCC blunder.

But things are improving at the NCC. An article in Sunday's Citizen under the byline of NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry tells us so. He boasts that the NCC will be holding an information meeting in January where the public can come and ask questions. It's the first time they have ever had one that wasn't tied to some specific plan.

Wild embrace

If this wild embrace of public consultation works out, Beaudry anticipates they might do it again in a year.

Gee, how much more open and accountable can people expect the NCC to get? The next thing you know, they will be opening their meetings to the public, although not likely in this century.

If the NCC has $450,000 to spend on a study, perhaps it should ask some outside agency to ponder the commission's own future.

As the federal auditor general has pointed out, the NCC is the owner of many crumbling assets including other bridges, buildings and parkways. They will have to be repaired, but does anyone really think we need a separate federal bureaucracy to do it?

Copyright Ottawa Citizen 1994 All Rights Reserved.