OTTAWA -- Work to turn an old rail bridge into a multi-use pathway between Ottawa and Gatineau is officially underway.

A groundbreaking ceremony Monday morning for construction on the Chief William Commanda Bridge marked the official start of the project.

The $22.6-million project will convert the long unused rail bridge over the Ottawa River into an interprovincial link for walkers, runners, cyclists, rollerbladers and cross-country skiers.

The bridge just west of downtown, built in 1880 as a railway link, hasn’t been in service since 2001. The city bought it from Canadian Pacific Railway in 2005.

Mayor Jim Watson said the project will incorporate the bridge into Ottawa’s urban trail system, which he called one of the best found anywhere.

“When the multi-use pathway opens next fall, it’s sure to become a popular active transportation corridor, linking a network of pathways and public transit on both sides of the river, and providing residents with more environmentally-friendly commuting options.”

Chief William Commanda Bridge

The project includes rehabilitation work on the bridge’s structural components and a new timber deck on top of the existing rail track.

There will be a steel cable railing system, LED lighting and benches for rest areas. The work also includes linking the bridge to Ottawa’s Trillium Pathway and the Voyageurs’ Pathway in Gatineau.

The bridge is scheduled to open next fall, but some work on the piers and a pathway connecting it to Lemieux Island is scheduled to last until 2024.

Lemieux Island, a popular off-leash dog park, has been closed to the public since September for construction.

“Today marks an important milestone in making sure that residents in both Ottawa and Gatineau have access to high quality active transportation networks,” Treasury Board president Mona Fortier said in a news release.

Formerly called the Prince of Wales bridge, the city renamed the bridge after Chief William Commanda in July. Command was chief of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation from 1951 to 1970.

The city is funding $14 million of the project, with the federal government covering the remaining $8.6 million.

The city is allocating two per cent of the pathway construction budget to commission Algonquin art for the site.