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Sandy Hill is the site of several new student-oriented buildings. Photo: Parker Townes.

Ottawa is set to become a sea of infrastructure development this summer

The City of Ottawa will officially hit 1 million people in the coming months, according to population projections by Statistics Canada. The National Capital Region, covering Ottawa, Gatineau, and a dozen other townships is also projected to hit 1.5 million in the coming two years.

The region has undergone a building boom as the city contends with a tight rental market, a growing tourism industry, and an overloaded transit system. The Ottawa planning office has more than 200 active projects for the urban core in various stages of approval covering condo towers, hotels, and office space. City departments are overhauling streets, revamping parks, and replacing the sewage system to keep up with the demands of a growing city.

Students at the University of Ottawa can expect a sea of construction over the summer months. Here’s a breakdown of what downtown residents will get for a summer of noise, dust, and detours.

Pedestrian friendly roads

The city will start the next phase of its Downtown Moves project this summer, with overhauls of Albert, Slater, Rideau, and Elgin streets at various stages of construction. The Downtown Moves plan’s stated goal is to create a pedestrian, cycling, and transit-friendly environment in urban Ottawa.

Overhauls to Queen Street completed last year marked the first step of this project. Sidewalks were doubled or tripled in width, new public art was installed, and bare concrete was replaced with brickwork sidewalks. Vehicle lanes were tightened at the same time, with new traffic calming measures put in place to slow down traffic in the core and promote pedestrian safety.

Bike Lanes

The city will be overhauling downtown bike lanes to bring them up to modern standards while also adding roughly 70 kilometers of new track around the city center. These new paths include added curbs and safety barricades to keep cyclists separated from cars, new intersection signals to prevent collisions, and more space for cyclists to pass each other.

“For students who live downtown on a budget, I can’t think of a better way of getting around (than cycling),” said Maya Wilson-Roberts, a communications student at the U of O. “The city can always be doing more, but I think what we’ve got right now is way better than what I had (growing up).”

Ottawa now has one of the highest rates of commuters using active transport in Canada, with the rapid growth attributed to the expansion of dedicated bike lanes according to a report by a cycling advocacy group in Ottawa.

More housing

Student housing and new rentals are on the rise as Ottawa faces one of the tightest rental markets in Canada. Private residences across the city have sprung up in the last few years, promising a high-end student experience to those who can afford them. Those projects are joined by two new student towers on Rideau, the much-advertised THEO residence, and three new projects in Sandy Hill.

The rental market is also booming with new projects that promise to ease the city’s overheating market. This growth is best represented by Trinity Station, a monolithic 240-metre tall rental tower and shopping center that will cap out at more than double the height of the city’s tallest buildings.

“It’s absolutely upside-down bloody bugnuts,” said Thomas Plante, a masters student at the U of O. “I moved to Ottawa five years ago and my friends (in Toronto) wanted to know why I would move to such a sleepy city and I said the cheap rent. Well now the rent isn’t cheap and the city isn’t sleepy.”  

Trains

OC Transpo’s much anticipated Confederation Line is aiming to launch early this summer, one year behind its planned date according to reports from Ottawa’s City Council. The line will bring some relief to Ottawa’s snarled traffic and overloaded bus system. The line will connect the U of O to Centertown, Chinatown, and Carleton University while allowing students to seek cheaper rents outside Sandy Hill.

“It really reframes the city for me,” said David Staynes, a resident of Sandy Hill. “A metro is a really big city thing to have, it lets people see parts of the city that used to be ignored. For me, the train is what separates small-town Ottawa and being a real national capital.”

Construction on the system’s Stage 2 expansion plan will be shutting down Transitways in the east and west starting this summer. The expansion will mean closing the Trillium Line in 2020 for a significant upgrade involving new stations and bigger trains. The new lines will be opening in phases beginning in 2022 and will extend the system to Orleans, Algonquin College, La Cite, and the airport.

A cleaner river

Work on Ottawa’s Combined Sewage Storage Tunnel (CSST) will resume this summer, with more road closures and construction sites around the core. The CSST is designed to prevent Ottawa’s frequent sewage overflows, that result in untreated waste being dumped into the Ottawa and Rideau rivers.

The project is part of the City of Ottawa’s River Action plan, a project meant to decrease pollution and improve the habitat of the Ottawa River. The City claims that riverfront beaches will face fewer closures, and wildlife populations will be healthier once the project is complete.

Better Parks

The National Capital Commission will be overhauling several public spaces including Nepean Point and the riverfront. The point will be closed this summer to add a new amphitheatre, a lookout, new public art, and an expanded community garden. The NCC also plans to upgrade various riverfront parks with new event spaces, beaches, bike paths, and public art.

The NCC and city will also be working on various projects to reinforce Ottawa’s shoreline and prevent its destruction from the river’s increasingly frequent flooding.