Ottawa council faces jam-packed LRT agenda Wednesday

Ottawa city council will have a number of light-rail transit proposals on the docket at its meeting on Wednesday, seeking accountability and a path forward — and maybe even a fare break for the city’s transit riders — surrounding the troubled system.

The past two months have marked another turbulent chapter in Ottawa’s LRT system, with frustrations from both the public and politicians boiling over following two recent derailments.

The latest incident on Sept. 19 caused enough damage to the system to keep trains off the tracks for three weeks and counting, with no timeline yet for when the line will be back in service and crowded R1 replacement buses running along the spine of the system in the interim.

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Among the motions city council will consider on Wednesday is a call from councillors Catherine McKenney and Carole Anne Meehan for a judicial inquiry into the Confederation Line LRT and where any breach of trust was involved in the awarding of the $2.1-billion contract to Rideau Transit Group.

Among the goals of an inquiry by an Ontario Superior Court justice would be to determine whether council retained enough oversight of the LRT procurement process or whether too much authority was delegated to staff.

City solicitor David White cautioned councillors in a memo last week that a judicial inquiry would be costly and time-consuming and might not be the only path to achieve the accountability some councillors are after.

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The public learned last week during a meeting of the finance and economic development committee (FEDCO) — where councillors met in camera for a sensitive update on legal proceedings against RTG — that the city had filed its second notice of default against the contractor following the recent derailment.

RTG has disputed this second default, but a motion passed at FEDCO to be approved at council would see Ottawa’s rail construction director Michael Morgan ramp up legal pressure on the construction consortium.

Morgan would file a notice of dispute and potentially call on the courts to confirm the two defaults to date in the city’s agreement with RTG.

These actions, which would seek to secure the city’s legal position in any ongoing disputes, would not immediately rip up Ottawa’s 30-year maintenance contract with RTG.

But a motion from councillors Diane Deans and Riley Brockington would ask city staff to evaluate the risks and options for ending that agreement early and report back. These options would include an in-house maintenance team for the Confederation Line and its forthcoming extensions.

Finally, Mayor Jim Watson and transit commission chair Allan Hubley will ask council to approve a proposal to waive transit fares for all riders in the month of December.

The “no-charge” month is presented as a gesture to renew customer confidence in the turbulent transit system.

The plan would cost an estimated $7.2 million, which the motion says would be covered off by RTG under the project agreement.

The agenda also includes a number of non-LRT items, including:

  • A recommendation from staff to hold a byelection in January to fill the vacant council seat in Kanata North.
  • A pilot program to allow low-speed electric vehicles on Ottawa streets.
  • Final approvals for the ward boundary reviews and name changes ahead of the 2022 municipal election.

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