Petition reveals opposition to Somerset footbridge

By Amanda Quinn

A Centretown property manager says he hopes a neighbourhood survey will finally convince city councillors that a proposed $4.2-million footbridge across the Rideau Canal at Somerset Street is a bad idea.

The questionnaire, created by Triole Investments Limited manager Doug Ducharme, asked residents of a Somerset Street West apartment building if they supported the crossing, which would be built just 400 metres south of the Laurier Avenue Bridge.

He says the final tally wasn’t even close: 27 opposed, four in support.

“We’ve seen enough nonsense in this city,” says Ducharme, who plans to survey two other buildings in the area. “Where are the city’s priorities? Instead of listening to residents, councillors just ram things down our throats.”

Ducharme argues the project is not necessary, especially with property taxes on the rise, social programs in danger of being cut and its proximity to the Laurier Avenue crossing.

“Why did we just spend $20 million to renovate the Laurier Bridge and create designated bicycle lanes to turn around and build another pedestrian bridge?” he says. “If you’re going to spend $4 million, spend it on police and fire services.”

Ducharme says he has faxed the survey results to the mayor and each city councillor, and says he expects a written response from Somerset Ward Coun. Diane Holmes.

Despite Ducharme’s vocal opposition, Holmes hasn’t swayed in her support for the project.

“Students and professors going to Ottawa U will not have to go out of their way to get to the Transitway anymore,” she says. “Also, the Laurier and Elgin intersection is very dangerous.”

Holmes argues the amount of money being spent on the pedestrian bridge is small considering how much is spent on roads for vehicles.

“We have a capital budget of $626 million,” Holmes says. “There’s money there for this project. Why are these residents opposed to a pedestrian bridge? I guess they all drive then? They don’t walk, I guess?”

Plans for the bridge have been in the works since the 1980s, but the Parks Canada Agency refused to allow the bridge because of concerns it would obstruct the view of the Rideau Canal and the downtown area. However, the Agency has now pledged its support, as have the National Capital Commission and the Department of National Defence.

Over $1 million has already been spent on planning and bridge design, with $4.2 million sitting in the city’s 2005 draft budget for the project. If approved during upcoming budget talks, construction will begin later this spring.

Holmes says she is confident her city council colleagues will approve the project. Bay Ward Coun. Alex Cullen says there will be debate about the project come budget time but calls the bridge “worthwhile.”

“I will be supporting it,” he says. “It will certainly be good for the people coming over from Sandy Hill to Elgin Street.”

Holmes says she’s prepared to respond to Ducharme’s petition, but says many people have already contacted her office in support of the project.

“I’ll be looking at all the information, but I also have over 100 emails of support for the bridge,” she says. “Not all people are opposed to this.”