Watson Plays Truck Tunnel For Politics: Reader


Frequent Bulldog contributor Ron Benn looks at the strategy behind Mayor Jim Watson’s support of a truck tunnel under Ottawa:

It is my understanding that what Mayor Jim Watson convinced so many of his fellow elected municipal officials to do was to ask the federal and provincial governments to co-fund a $6-$7 million detailed study, with the municipal ante being about $2 million. What he has accomplished with this move is three things;

– appearing to take action (another study) on a serious issue;
– defer any real decisions until later (a problem deferred is a problem solved is a common ploy used by politicians);
– shifted the responsibility to say no to someone else (the federal and provincial governments).

This is just a variant a game of shifting responsibility for poor his decision-making on to others that he has played several times during the past six years.

The Bulldog’s readers will recall that the mayor decided that asking the province for two casinos would solve his dilemma of having declared multiple, conflicting positions on where the city would like a new casino. By asking for two casinos, he put the ball in Premier Kathleen Wynne’s court, so that her government would take the blame for turning down his “brilliant” solution. The fiscal cost to the taxpayers of Ottawa was not disclosed, but likely immaterial.

The failure to secure the land rights to the western end of the LRT trench was a multi-billion-dollar game of chicken with the National Capital Commission that cost at least $100 million in extra tunnelling costs, but for that magical, offsetting value engineering savings he found.

A few years ago, he managed to distract the residents of the city with a promise of a study on a downtown truck tunnel when he refused to endorse the Kettle Island bridge alternative, with the city picking up $250,000 of the costs. On Wednesday, he upped the ante by adding a “0” to our tab.

One does have to wonder what Minister Bob Chiarelli (senior Ottawa minister) and Minister Catherine McKenna (senior Ottawa minister) had to say when they heard that Watson has put them on the spot to get approval for squandering a couple more million dollars each, that neither of their governments have.

In baseball, you get three strikes before you are out. How many does he get before our provincial and federal governments call him out?


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10 thoughts on “Watson Plays Truck Tunnel For Politics: Reader

  1. It is funny that the mayor needs to commission a study on all kinds of things but on some other things he can just come right out and say that “it’s back to the drawing board” on this one.

    Shouldn’t he have commissioned a study first before making that statement?

  2. The big failure is neglecting public input through public consultations.

    City council commissioned the truck tunnel study in the hope that it would turn out to be a cheaper option than the Kettle Island bridge project. It has come back at twice the cost. That fact should have sparked a ton of debate in the public.

    Watson is now advertising this tunnel project as free to the citizens of Ottawa because he claims the feds and the province need to pay for this project. But Ottawa taxpayers are also federal and provincial taxpayers. There is not some magical source of federal and provincial funds. Regardless of where the project is in Canada, Canadian taxpayers expect the best value for their tax dollars.

    Maybe if Watson were to spend more time working in the private sector, then he would understand this principle.

    1. Sheridan,
      There is indeed a “Magical Source” – it has something to do with passing the repayment of deficits onto your great grand children.


    2. The right number to refer to for the cost of the proposed bridge at Kettle Island was 1.2B$ (in 2012$). That is the number in the study. Inflate that by 4 yrs of construction costs and that is in the range of 1.3 to 1.4B$. The tunnel study put out a cost range of 1.7 to 2.0B$. That is not 2x the cost of the proposed bridge.

  3. This is another of Watson’s win/win/win/win ideas – for him, anyway. He gets to say he’s doing everything in his power to get the trucks out of Lowertown. He can talk fiscal responsibility because he maintains his 2% tax ceiling. He can tell the Rockcliffers and Manor Parkites that he’s keeping the bridge off the table. He also gets to explain to people, in his best “I’m mystified” voice, that he can’t understand why the other levels of government don’t love Lowertowners the way he does because if, they did, there would be a tunnel underway even as we speak.
    Too bad that what works for Watson so often doesn’t work for the rest of us.

  4. Sheridan and Voter: I agree there is a risk that Watson is playing politics by handling this issue in this way by just ‘appearing’ to be doing something . There is also the possibility that he is serious.

    The province of Ontario is spending 2B$ EVERY year on highway and road infrastructure in this province….and we have been waiting in line for 50 yrs to get a proper connection between the 417 and the 5/50 which would deal with the downtown truck problem.

    I quote: “The ministry (MTO) said the government has spent over $25 billion to design, repair and expand provincial highways and bridges across the province since 2003”.

    The 12 million registered vehicles in Ontario generate 1.4B$ in licence plates fees each and every year.

  5. John Verbaas,

    As I understand the costs: $1.16-billion estimate (2012) for the Kettle Island bridge project. After the NCC’s $7-million study, they still needed to spend $1.6-million to complete an EA for the bridge. Once the EA was completed (and this did not sound like it would take very long), then this project would have gone to tender. And a possible start to construction in 2014?

    The truck tunnel study ($750,000 cost) gave an estimated cost of between $1.7 to $2-billion. Everyone (the media and politicians) has been referring to this as a $2-billion project. The EA for this tunnel project has most recently been cited as $7.5-million and taking four years to complete.

    What are the chances that in four years from now the cost of the tunnel is much greater than $2-billion? Are there not more issues that can cause costly problems with a tunnel than a bridge? Is the risk assessment greater for the tunnel? Sandy Hill does not inspire great confidence in many people. The Confederation LRT line’s tunnel had to be shortened because of the soil conditions in Sandy Hill, and even then we still ended up with two sinkholes.

    Has a tunnel on the Quebec side ever been explored? For example, auto-route 50 to a Kettle Island Bridge?

    Even if a truck tunnel is built in Ottawa, will we still not need another new interprovincial bridge to handle growing interprovincial traffic?

    City council has ordered the study of the possibility of banning non-essential truck traffic (i.e. only local deliveries) from downtown. Should we not have the result of such a study before engaging in a truck tunnel EA? Indeed, should this not have been undertaken when the truck tunnel feasibility study was launched two years ago?

    Lastly, should we not be doing something about interprovincial public transit, e.g. a LRT loop between Ottawa and Hull?

    1. Sheridan:

      The point about the light-rail tunnel being stopped because of soil conditions is very interesting.

      What does this say about a truck tunnel there, if it ever happens … which is unlikely due to cost and the fact that it doesn’t get trucks carrying dangerous materials out of downtown.

      But then odd things do happen at Ottawa City Hall. Maybe this tunnel will happen, too.

      Grandkids across the city will no doubt enjoy paying for this useless burrow.



  6. I was going through some design articles and found one that solves all the problems.

    It starts out flat then makes a big curve and goes up, then it heads straight down and levels off. Proceeds thereafter by going up, down, curves.

    So there you have it – build part of the truck by-pass on the flat then head through a tunnel and exit to an elevated roadway.

    OOPS – sorry, these are plans for a roller coaster. I guess it’s back to the drawing board.



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