By Peter Koven
When Jim Malone drives along the Queensway near the Corel Centre on hockey nights, he doesn’t like what he sees.
“On Senators nights it’s just wild. It’s a parking lot, really. But I see a considerable upturn in the congestion even when there’s no Senators game on. It’s a real mess out there.”
When the City of Ottawa created its amalgamation plan, it implemented a strategy to deal with the increases in congestion that would emerge with the city’s planned growth. The growth has far exceeded expectations, however, and the result has been increased congestion in many of the suburban areas, particularly Kanata.
“Since amalgamation, there has been a considerable growth here, both on the 417 and Kanata proper,” explains Malone, president of the Kanata Lakes Community Association. “When growth comes in and they put the damn homes in, they don’t think about the roads first. It’s not part of their master plan.”
City zone supervisor Graziano Righetto echoes Malone’s statements: “Nothing else was thought of (except development). They issued a lot of permits and tried to get development fees.”
But Dennis Jacobs, the city’s director of planning, environment and infrastructure policy, says the roads have always been part of the plan – the city simply hadn’t accounted for Kanata’s huge growth. Kanata’s current population of approximately 65,000 is expected to grow to nearly 90,000 in the next three years. The unprecedented growth began with the high-tech boom in the late ’90s, but has continued increasing, even after its recent collapse.
“There was a transportation master plan in the 1997 official plan,” he says. “But the growth (in the west) is a little faster than expected. It was supposed to reach this point in two to three years.”
So far, the amalgamated city has dealt with the congestion through widening the roads and expanding public transit.
Terry Fox Drive, one of Kanata’s thoroughfares from the 417, is currently expanding to four lanes and extending north and south. The public transit expansions include more bus service to downtown Ottawa and within the Kanata community, as well as OC Transpo’s Park and Ride lots, which currently hold close to 3,000 cars across Ottawa and 800 at Kanata’s Eagleson Road lot alone. Kanata Coun. Alex Munter says that lot will be expanded by an additional 500 spaces in 2003.
Many agree that future growth can only be managed with effective public transit. Peter Stacy, manager of the city’s roadway modifications, sees public transportation as the most effective travel mode in the city’s 20/20 amalgamation plan. As he explains it, building and expanding roads can temporarily alleviate congestion, but more construction will eventually be needed as growth continues.
“We want people 20 years from now to be using public transit as their key mode of transit. It’s how we get from here to there. Say there’s a new community by the airport. Do we build roads first or make it a transit-choice community? We’d rather have the latter.”
But he also understands that people in the suburban communities will continue to press for more and better roads.
“You have these two-lane roads going through rapidly developing areas that should have been (expanded) several years ago. But the desire wasn’t there to fund these projects.”
Despite all of the public transit improvements, Malone, the community association president, has yet to see a significant decrease in congestion.
“Has (OC Transpo) helped? I don’t think so. We need an east-west rail car or something. Now the Park & Rides are overcrowded, and you waste all your time trying to find a parking spot.”
Munter is more positive about the benefits of Park and Rides and the Terry Fox Drive expansion, but agrees that the east-west rail car is the city’s best hope.
“There is a rapid transit-expansion study underway,” he says. “The O-Train was a pilot project. People like it, it’s working well … we’re hoping that some of the federal government’s newfound interest in helping cities … will lead to some funding for the east-west light rail.”
The community will need the funding, because, in his words, “the price tag is too big.”
In the meantime, Kanata residents will have to deal with the congestion. Many nonetheless remain optimistic that Munter, their hard-working councillor, will find a solution.
“That man,” said Malone, “is like the energizer bunny.”