Queensway widening attracts criticism

By Matt Graveline

City Hall Bureau

The proposed widening of the Queensway by the province is attracting criticism from Ottawa residents.

Over the last four years, the provincial government has studied ways to make improvements to the Queensway and has sought reaction from the public to the proposal.

The province plans to widen one of the city’s largest arteries by one lane each way.

“Think of proposed construction like a funnel. The rural areas of Ottawa are the wide end and downtown is the narrow end,” says Pierre Johnson, a former member of the public advisory committee for the Queensway project.

He says the traffic plans for areas with highway ramps, such as Catherine Street and Bronson Avenue, won’t be able to handle the 500 cars an hour the widening project is projected to bring onto city streets.

Johnson has lobbied against the proposed plan since September 2003.

He also helped found the Queensway coalition, a group of Ottawa community associations lobbying the Ministry of Transportation for alternatives to building more roads.

“Anything that brings more cars faster into our community is a problem,” says Somerset Ward Coun. Diane Holmes.

But the ministry’s senior engineer, Dave Lindensmith, explains the widening is to accommodate the projected growth in Ottawa and to limit highway traffic jams during peak hours.

Other minor parts of the project, which will greatly benefit Ottawa drivers he says is the lengthening of on-ramps and off-ramps for safety reasons.

Lindensmith also says the province took the City of Ottawa’s sustainable transportation friendly master plan and used it as a precedent, planning the widening of the Queensway accordingly.

The plan calls for 30 per cent of traffic in Ottawa to be mass transit by 2021. It also calls for pedestrian traffic to rise from 35,000 to 100,000.

Johnson says this is all well and good as long as the province is seriously committed to these goals.

“They are looking at the 30 per cent as a maximum,” he says. “Why should we put a ceiling to it? Why not shoot for 30 per cent as a minimum?”

Since the Ministry of Transportation released its final report on the project to community advisers in January, Holmes has been eager to bring the issue to her constituents.

“Most people don’t even know this is happening,” she says.

She is sending out flyers and placing advertisements in community newspapers to try to increase awareness among residents.

She is also encouraging residents to contact Ottawa Centre Liberal MPP Richard Patten and Environment Minister Laurel Broten to make their views about the project known.

Holmes wants her constituents to demand more transit options and noise barriers to avoid excessive noise pollution.

Holmes says the first problem the widening would cause is traffic congestion. But losing the green space at the sides of the highway is also must be addressed.

Johnson, who will meet with Lindensmith in the next two months, says he will request a government study on lowering speed limits in place of widening the highway.

For transit, he wants the government to look again at a light rail system, which he says can replace a seven-lane highway.

And Lindensmith says meetings will continue until the concerned community members who filed complaints have been heard and dealt with.

“[The timeframe before the next step] really depends on the process. It will very much depend on what we hear from people,”

But Transport 2000’s Bert Titcomb says the solution should be more aggressive.

“We should try to make it more difficult for people to get into cars,” he says.

His group is a not-for-profit research organization, which seeks to make alternative transit such as light rail more appealing and more efficient to entice drivers to leave their car in the driveway.

Titcomb lived 60 metres from the Queensway on Havelock Street and says the whole experience was awful.

“At any hour of the day the audiometer would read 90 decibels of sound,” he says.“Workers have to use ear plugs for anything over 80, Havelovck adds.”

He says the installation of the sound barriers will take a long time and would diminish sound by only 10 decibels.

Pollution problems with the existing Queensway has sustainable transportation researchers such as Barry Wellar concerned about the province’s long-term forecast for the effectiveness of new lanes.

He says the province needs to look at rail and other transportation methods because 50 years down the road pollution will be much worse and fossil fuels could run out.

“They build roads and if that doesn’t work they build more roads,” he says.

“They have no idea if any widening will pay off with long-term good results.”