The cost to run light rail transit through the downtown core is rising.

Originally, taxpayers were told $1.4 billion would be needed; then $1.8 bilion; and now a city report released Friday says the total cost will be $2.1 billion.

Council is divided on the merits of the project when compared with the rising cost.

"We see a 50 per cent increase in the estimate of the tunnel alone and we're nowhere near putting a spade in the ground," says Coun. Diane Deans. "That, to me, is a flaming red flag."

However, Coun. Jacques Legendre counters the cost is a small price to pay for moving commuters off the roads - particularly downtown - and on to the rails.

"This is needed," he says. "We need to uncork the bottle. Right now, we've got a major problem in the downtown and that's why we desperately need the tunnel."

Debt and gas tax revenue will be used to pay for the first phase of the project, adds Alex Cullen, chair of the city's transit committee. He adds there will be no immediate effect on property taxes.

The first phase of the project includes:

  • A downtown tunnel (stretching 3.2 kilometres)
  • Conversion of the transitway to light rail from Blair Road to Tunney's Pasture Station
  • East-end rail yeard
  • Light rail transit vehicles to service the new lines

"An LRT system will mean public transit in Ottawa that will be able to carry more people more efficiently at a lower overall cost," noted the report released by the City.

"However, developing the LRT system and the downtown tunnel is about more than transit. The new system will also have significant benefits for our environment, our economy, our quality of life and our communities."

The project was approved by council in November 2008.

With a report from CTV Ottawa's Norman Fetterley