Traffic would be shifted to Hawthorne and Main: Highway 417 bridge replacement proposal calls for two-year detour of Colonel By Drive

John Dance

Replacement of the deteriorated Queensway bridge over the Rideau Canal could require the two-year closure of both Canal parkways running under the bridge.

Replacement of the deteriorated Queensway bridge over the Rideau Canal could require the two-year closure of
both Canal parkways running under the bridge.

After five years of study and limited consultation, the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) now proposes that, beginning in 2028 and for almost two years, both Colonel By Drive (CBD) and the Queen Elizabeth Driveway (QED) would be closed beneath Highway 417’s Rideau Canal bridge as a replacement bridge is assembled to the north.

The proposed lengthy closure was not part of previous proposals, and it has not been well-received by area residents. The closures would require all users of the Canal parkways to detour around the construction site. On the CBD side, the detour would be Hawthorne-Main and on the QED side users would take Elgin-Argyle.

“MTO is continuing an ongoing environmental assessment and preliminary design study to establish bridge management plans for seven bridges at four sites on the Ottawa Queensway,” the recently released documentation says.

In addition to the Canal bridge, the Main, Elgin and Metcalfe bridges will also be rehabilitated or replaced as many others along the Queensway already have been as the ministry deals with the deterioration of the 50-year-old bridges.

The Canal bridge presents many more challenges than the other bridges because of its length, contaminated soil, the Canal’s status as a world heritage site, two parkways running underneath, major buried utilities and the need to ensure the Rideau Canal Skateway and Canal boating are not impeded.

The recommended new proposal would not require demolition of 221 Echo, now the Gray Jay Restaurant, nor the adjacent building on Hawthorne Avenue. Demolition was proposed during the 2019 consultation and residents objected to this.

However, the plans show that the parking lot of the Gray Jay and the backyard of the adjacent Hawthorne building would be required during the two-year construction process. When contacted by The Mainstreeter, Dominique Dufour, chef-owner of the Gray Jay, was surprised to hear of the proposal.

MTO had not reached out to her to discuss the new proposal requiring the detour and use of her parking lot. Dufour described the plan as “the last nail in the coffin.”

Several days after learning of MTO’s plans, she announced that her restaurant would be permanently closing at its Echo location. The MTO plans, coupled with the adverse financial impacts of the trucker convoy and several other factors including the pandemic, led Dufour to take the decision.

The restaurant had been open for about a year at the Echo location. Although The Mainstreeter was told by MTO that the work wouldn’t start until 2028, Dufour contacted the ministry and was told that the work may begin as early as 2026.

“This, compounded with the announced work repaving all of CBD to replace the main water line this coming summer, contributed to our decision,” said Dufour. “We cannot confidently plan to continue doing business against all these odds and closure. Accessibility is a big issue for us.”

Under the new proposal, rather than having piers in the Canal, as is the case with the old bridge, new piers will be integrated into the Canal walls. This will avoid the “underground hydro plant on both sides of the Canal.”

Similarly, moving the construction staging to the north of the existing bridge reduces risks to the buried watermain and the hydro plant. Also, the documentation says the proposed detouring of traffic will improve the safety of the construction area. However, it’s not clear how the safety of pedestrians and cyclists will be improved with the proposed detours.

Indeed, the detouring of northbound cyclists will require them to take eastbound Hawthorne which, even after its upcoming reconstruction, will not have an eastbound cycling lane but will have a lot more motorized traffic because of the detour.

Then, at Main Street, cyclists would have to turn left at a very crowded and busy intersection and then continue north, at times without cycling lanes. Although there will be two-year detours for parkway users, the only inconvenience to Highway 417 motorists will be a four-day detour through Old Ottawa East (OOE) when the old bridge is demolished, and the new bridge structures are “jacked and slid” into place.

“Parks Canada, the NCC and the City have all endorsed Alternative 3 [requiring the parkway closures],” MTO spokesperson Patrick Helferty told The Mainstreeter.

In a response that was a week after the information was requested, MTO declined to give answers to a number of the questions that had been posed. “The construction staging will be defined in greater detail during the subsequent detail design phase,” notes Helferty.

MTO announced the new proposal and a two-week on-line consultation period that ended on November 30th in the Ottawa Citizen. There was no effort to inform local community associations or community newspapers despite The Mainstreeter having raised many questions during the two previous consultations.

Tom Scott, chair of the OOE Community Association’s transportation and infrastructure committee, has requested that MTO hold “a face-to-face” meeting with the community. “They really didn’t deliver on concerns expressed in the last-previous public session and they have now shifted gears to a new approach with no reflection on what was said in that last iteration,” says Scott.

Filed in: Front Page

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