Ottawa committee to decide short-term plan for vehicles on Wellington Street

As the one-year anniversary of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ approaches, a city of Ottawa committee will look at whether to allow vehicles to return to Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill in the short-term or extend the closure.

Mayor Mark Sutcliffe says he’s open to the idea of allowing vehicles to return to Wellington Street in the short-term, while the MP for the area wants the road to remain closed permanently.

Wellington Street remains closed to vehicle traffic between Elgin and Bank streets following the protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health measures that closed the road last January and February.

Council voted to keep the road closed to vehicle traffic for the rest of 2022 to prevent similar protests, while a House of Commons committee recommended permanently closing Wellington Street from the National War Memorial to Kent Street.

Ottawa Transportation Committee chair Tim Tierney says the city committee will discuss what to do with the road in the short-term at its meeting next week.

“I’m leaning very heavily to opening it up so we can at least use our municipally funded city of Ottawa street to make life easier on people over the next year until at least it comes back to the table with the study,” Tierney told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s The Morning Rush with Bill Carroll.

“Right now, it’s not a secure street; it’s not a pedestrian mall.”

Mayor Sutcliffe says there are “valid reasons” to keeping Wellington Street closed permanently or opening it to vehicles while discussions proceed on the future of the road.

“I’m open to what residents have to say. If I had to decide today, I would probably lean towards reopening it in the short-term because of the impact on traffic, the impact on residents in that area,” Sutcliffe said.

“Again, my inclination is towards an exciting plan for the future of Wellington, but that plan is going to take some time and unless there’s a valid reason for the road to be closed in the meantime, and I’m willing to hear those reasons, my inclination is to reopen it.”

Sutcliffe said the long-term discussion on the future of Wellington, including whether it’s open or closed permanently and who is responsible for the road, will play out over the coming weeks and months.

In a report for the transportation committee, Director of Traffic Services Phil Landry said the closure of Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill has “not caused a total failure of the transportation network” in the downtown core. However, the report warns the return of public service workers to the downtown core and construction has the “potential to cause congestion and delay for all roadway users in the future.”

“We are seeing a lot more traffic patterns and it is creating a lot of consternation for people having to circle around,” Tierney told CTV News Ottawa. “So much so, if you punch it in to Google Maps it will actually tell you to go through the Quebec side to get around our city. That is a bit of a challenge right now.”

Wellington Street is currently the responsibility of the city of Ottawa. Last year, city staff said the city was holding “investigative discussions” with the federal government on potentially transferring ownership of Wellington Street.

Ottawa Centre Liberal MP Yasir Naqvi wants the city of Ottawa and the federal government to keep vehicles off Wellington Street.

“I remain committed to seeing Wellington Street remain closed to vehicles and reimagined as a pedestrian-first space. The illegal occupation of Wellington Street last year was a learning experience, and we must ensure similar incidents do not repeat themselves in the future,” Naqvi said in a statement to CTV News Ottawa.

“With Wellington Street currently closed to vehicles, we now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine this nationally important space to better serve residents, businesses and visitors, protect our institutions, and beautify the area. I urge the City of Ottawa take into account how a temporary re-opening of the street would impact ongoing negotiations with the federal government around the future status of Wellington Street.”

Treasury Board President Mona Fortier said discussions on whether to open Wellington Street are “premature” as the city of Ottawa and the federal government look at the future of the road.

“We have to think about this long-term approach,” Fortier said, noting Wellington Street has been proposed as a future route for Gatineau’s light-rail transit system.

“I think we have a great opportunity here to be thinking on how Wellington Street can best serve the residents of Ottawa and also work with the parliamentary precinct.”

Kevin McHale of the Sparks Street BIA wants the street to reopen to traffic.

“My hope is that the barricades, the concrete, and the jersey barriers disappear sooner rather than later,” McHale said.

“We have been talking about this for a while now, the road has been closed for a reason. We have seen that police and security have other tools that they can use now to prevent it from happening again – so I think it is time.”

McHale says the closure has had an impact on local businesses on Sparks Street and in the area.

“It is time to open up the street for the residents and businesses in the area to be able to move around,” McHale said.

“It is difficult for our members to get deliveries, it is difficult for customers to come down. Optically, downtown Ottawa still feels closed and that we are still dealing with convoy occupation.”

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