As the ramifications of the mega overhaul planned on the Turcot Interchange become clearer, it appears that NDG residents will be affected as well. Originally overlooked by MTQ officials – who initially only planned public hearings in the southwest borough – residents had the opportunity to make their case before officials last night.
The primary issue on concern for those who brought their questions to the floor was that of the Falaise St. Jacques. While once extensively used as a trail by Iroquoian peoples prior to European contact, it became an obstacle during Montreal’s twentieth century development, a dead space which a sprawling train yard served only to reinforce. But with a paucity of green space in NDG, residents are trying to re-value this natural feature. Designated as a protected green space by the City of Montreal in 2004, it has nevertheless remained largely inaccessible for most residents. Recently, blogs like Waking Turcot Yards and Exploring the Falaise St. Jacques – as well as local environmental groups – have reignited a public interest in this space.
Transports Quebec ensured that their plan to move the Autoroute 20 up against the bottom of the bluff would not compromise the eco-territory, but the plan will see a once-protected (if neglected) space become a sponge for noise and pollution. Also, the addition of extra railway tracks alongside the 20 (see below) would render the bluff even more inhospitable. Many residents who approached the microphone urged the MTQ’s representatives to shift the 20 closer to the Lachine Canal, or simply leave it where it is (at ground level, not suffering from the deterioration that plagues the towering overpasses).
Maybe I’m just cynical, but it seems the MTQ’s rationale for the highway hugging the bottom of the cliff is clear: this land stands to be profitably developed. The Ministry has trumpeted the opportunity to increase the value to this disused area, but has done so with a fairly narrow definition of “value”. Early indications are that the 100-odd hectares that stand to be opened up will likely house various light industries (single story, aluminum clad buildings). There must be something better.
Peter McQueen, Green Party candidate for NDG advocates leaving the 20 where it is and building a sustainable residential community that integrates the bluffs into a park for public recreation. The architectural firm Béïque, Legault & Thuot have put forward a plan that would see the return of Otter Lake – part of a natural waterway that predated the CN rail yards – and a mix of usages including environmental education, recreation, residential and commerce.
Concerned NDG residents are pushing hard. The question is: has the province learned anything in the last 40 years?