By Micaal Ahmed
First, it was a key asset for a Quebec-based rail empire. Then it was a link in the Canadian Pacific Railway’s transcontinental line — part of the national dream.
Now, the Prince of Wales Bridge lies abandoned and derelict.
Yet this 19th-century engineering relic holds promise for the City of Ottawa – perhaps as a vital commuter connection across the Ottawa River between two transit systems, two cities and two provinces.
The idea just needs to be embraced.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told Centretown News this week that he won’t be handing the bridge over to anyone, despite some interest from a local consortium hungrily eyeing the iron span for a proposed Ottawa Valley rail network.
And that’s fine. The bridge should belong to the city, and we can assume Watson’s stance means he really does see great potential in this impressive piece of infrastructure and isn’t willing to let it go.
But while it’s a hopeful sign that the city refuses to relinquish ownership of the bridge, one wonders: is the plan to keep investing in fences and blockades to keep sightseers away while letting the bridge’s condition deteriorate? Or putting up more No Trespassing signs to be ignored by people looking for the perfect Instagram post of a breathtaking sunset?
Are we waiting until it costs even more than the estimated $200 million it would now take to fix up the bridge? Or just until the entire crossing is covered in graffiti as opposed to only a few prominent girders?
The Prince of Wales Bridge offers a perfect vision for the City of Ottawa invest in. It’s an investment that would lead to the community having it all – cycling, walking, sightseeing, the preservation of important heritage and, above all, a critical commuter rail connection between the Ottawa and Gatineau, Ontario and Quebec.
The Prince of Wales Bridge might even end up being symbolic of a unified vision shared by civic leaders and ordinary citizens on both sides of the provincial and municipal boundary.
Transforming the old bridge into a modern transit and recreational node for the national capital would require a significant investment, yes. But developing the bridge as part of an enhanced local transportation system would create new bonds between the two cities — simple as that.
The number of people who cross the river every daily is extremely high, creating congestion at all of the other choke points spanning the Ottawa. Add paths for pedestrians and cyclists, and a the bridge may not only relieve some of the gridlock in the capital but also become a go-to place for locals and tourists alike.
It will be expensive, no doubt. However, it doesn’t have to be a one-man project, despite the way the mayor has made it sound. The City of Gatineau has expressed interest in developing the link, so let’s partner up. The MOOSE Consortium has also expressed interest in the railway connection, so perhaps that business or others in the private sector could also serve as potential associates.
The April 28 deadline for a decision about what to do with the bridge — an ultimatum imposed on Ottawa by the Canadian Transportation Agency — is drawing closer, and it seems that the city is girding for a fight.
Instead, why not seize the moment and rally the capital around a bold vision of the future?