Queensway Bridge Replacement Question Abound, When, Where, Why?

John Dance

Will the replacement of the Queensway bridges over the Rideau Canal and Main Street require the demolition of the Royal Oak Pub, Gordon and McGowan Construction, and their immediate neighbouring buildings? This question along with many others related to the massive provincial project for the bridge replacements remains unanswered.

The Queensway bridge over the Rideau Canal will be replaced over the next decade. Photo by John Dance

The Queensway bridge over the Rideau Canal will be replaced over the next decade. Photo by John Dance

And it’s not clear when there will be answers.
“We’re looking at options to potentially not impact these properties,”Brandy Duhaime, regional communications coordinator for the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO), told The Mainstreeter. “The public will see the options,” she said.

Back in October, MTO briefed the City of Ottawa’s Transportation Committee and outlined preliminary planning for the mega-project. An ensuing headline in the Ottawa Citizen read: “Restaurants, cycling shop could be acquired for Highway 417 bridge project”, but there has been pushback on this option by Councillor Shawn Menard.

The Queensway bridges are now about 60 years old and are nearing the end of their “service life,” as MTO describes it. Examples of serious deterioration include the concrete barrier of the bridge over Elgin Street separating from the main structure four years ago and the rehabilitation work on the Queensway Canal bridge now underway.

However, rehabilitation is seen by MTO as only a short-term solution whereas the full replacement is viewed as the best approach. The question MTO must resolve then is how to replace the bridges with the least impact on the environment, communities and Queensway users.

Last May residents were invited to a meeting at Saint Paul University for an update on the preliminary design and environmental assessment of the “Queensway downtown bridges,” over Metcalfe, Elgin and Main streets and over the Rideau Canal. The many display boards at the meeting outlined the construction and bridge assembly area alternatives for the different bridges.

The MTO’s preferred alternative for the Canal bridge, which is the largest and most difficult of the four downtown Queensway bridges, required the acquisition of the Royal Oak and the adjacent Greek on Wheels/Cyco’s building and, on the northwest corner of Main Street and Hawthorne Avenue, Gordon and McGovern Construction and The Organic Salon. At the transportation committee meeting, MTO told councillors that the owners of these properties were “willing sellers.”

The areas where the sections of the “rapid replacement” bridges would be pre-fabricated would be Ballantyne Park on the north side of Hawthorne, the overgrown area to the north of the Old Town Hall and homes to the east, and the area just south of the short section of Catherine Street between Elgin Street and Queen Elizabeth Driveway.

The proposed plan for replacing the Canal Queensway bridge requires installation of a temporary crane on the site of the Royal Oak Pub. Image by MTO

The proposed plan for replacing the Canal Queensway bridge requires installation of a temporary crane on the site of the Royal Oak Pub. Image by MTO

The prefabricated sections for the Canal bridge would be installed by using a number of cranes including one located on the current site of the Royal Oak. Like the Queensway bridge rapid replacement at Lees Avenue, the idea is to remove the old bridges and build the new ones as quickly as possible to minimize disruption to Queensway motorists. In fact, the Lees overpass was replaced in three days.

The project’s impact on Ballantyne Park is not clear. “We will try to protect larger trees in the park where reasonable to avoid and they can be worked around [but it’s] not a guarantee that we can,” Duhaime told The Mainstreeter. There is no information on how long the park will be removed from public use.

In terms of timing, the projects can’t begin until funding is available, and MTO doesn’t know when this will be. At the transportation committee meeting, 2024-2025 was the suggested start date with a duration of about four years. In terms of cost, MTO told The Mainstreeter that this won’t be known until the contracts are awarded. MTO provided no information on what already completed Queensway bridges had cost.

Key to the approval of the project is the completion of a “transportation environmental study report” which was to be completed in the “fall/winter 2019/2020.” Once completed, the public will be given 30 days to comment. No additional public meetings have been scheduled.

After about 60 years the Queensway bridges’ concrete is breaking away from massive reinforcing rods. After about 60 years of usage, the Queensway bridges’ concrete is breaking away from massive reinforcing rods. Photo by John Dance

After about 60 years the Queensway bridges’ concrete is breaking away from massive reinforcing rods. After about 60 years of usage, the Queensway bridges’ concrete is breaking away from massive reinforcing rods. Photo by John Dance

Both Councillor Menard and MPP Joel Harden have been active in the review of MTO plans. Harden says, “I have emphasized the need for a robust consultation process that engages affected residents and business owners so that concerns including neighbourhood character, safety, and disruption for small businesses are effectively addressed.”

Residents and businesses on Hawthorne Avenue and the north part of Main Street may have just recovered from the city’s rebuilding of Hawthorne-Main-Greenfield by the time the bridge replacement project begins. The street rebuilding is scheduled to start next Spring 2021 and finish by Fall 2023.

One potential benefit of the MTO’s possible acquisition of the northwest corner of Main and Hawthorne is that, as noted by Councillor Menard, this could allow for some widening of Hawthorne so that the hazardous southwest corner could be improved for pedestrians and cyclists.

The rehabilitation work currently underway on the Canal bridge is expected to be done by the Fall at a cost of about $1.1 million. It’s being done “in order to extend the bridge’s piers and abutments’ lifespan until full replacement,” says Duhaime

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