LRT construction unites western and central lines

Deep below Ottawa’s downtown streets, the light rail transit tunnel is getting closer and closer to completion. Construction crews reached a milestone in mid-November when they connected the western and central sections of the dig, near the intersection of Queen and Lyon streets.

Mayor Jim Watson said this is just one of many milestones that will be celebrated. “We’re very excited obviously, because it’s showing more and more of the development of the tunnel and what it’s going to look like when people start taking the train in 2018.”

Karen Hawley, of Ecology Ottawa, was also thrilled and said her organization is a big cheerleader of the project because of their commitment to creating a greener Ottawa.

 “We think light rail is an important step for the city as we move into using cars less, and public transit more,” she said.

The 2.5-kilometre downtown tunnel of the light-rail transit system includes three stations: Lyon, Parliament, and Rideau. The city has said the tunnel will cut 10 to 15 minutes off daily commutes when it’s completed. 

Construction on the tunnel began over a year ago. A hole was dug at the intersection of Albert and Commissioner streets, which is the “west portal” of the tunnel. Since then, half of the Lyon station cavern has been excavated as well as 12 per cent of the Parliament station cavern, according the Rideau Transit Group, who is designing and building the LRT.

The consortium anticipates that mining of the Rideau station cavern will begin before the end of this year, while the excavation of the Lyon station cavern should be completed in early 2015.

Three “roadheaders,” which are large excavating machines, are responsible for digging the tunnel: Jawbreaker, Chewrocka, and Crocodile Rouge. 

Jawbreaker was the first machine in full service, digging eastward from the west portal. It’s the one responsible for the recent connection of the western and central tunnels.

Chewrocka’s job is to dig east and form the cavern for the Parliament station, while Crocodile Rouge will dig west from the University of Ottawa and will carve out the Rideau station cavern.

According to RTG’s website, the LRT is Ottawa’s largest transportation infrastructure project since the building of the Rideau Canal. The project in its entirety has a hefty price tag of $2.1 billion, with the construction of the downtown tunnel being the bulk of the cost.
Despite the huge cost to taxpayers, the LRT has been benefitting Ottawa’s economy. 

Local architecture and engineering firms, suppliers, and companies who lease equipment have all been working on the project.

“It’s creating a lot of jobs, both blue collar and white collar,” says Watson, “so it’s been great for the local economy at a time where there’s been a softening of jobs as a result of the federal downsizing.”
He says the LRT is both on time and on budget. The light rail tunnel is scheduled to officially open in May 2018.