Uncovering Turcot’s future (under a mountain of paper): BAPE documents reviewed


Source: MTQ

 On March 24, the Bureau des Audiences Publiques sur l’environnement revealed the documents which it will be considering its legally-binding process of environmental assessment. While these sorts of hearings are generally a token example of public consultation leading to an inevitable rubber stamp of approval, there is information presented that would be of interest to Montreal’s concerned residents. Unfortunately, as with many public processes, the overwhelming quantity and dizzying legal-ease of its presentation discourages many from delving deeping. To that end, I will take on the unenviable task of sifting through this glut of 800 pages or so to highlight some of the more interesting issues and studies presented. To consult the documents yourself, the BAPE posted all documents here.

Scope of the documents

Considering the immense human resources involved in the preparation of these documents, the MTQ’s report devotes a meager two paragraphs to the possibility of repairing the existing infratructure. Nor do they consider a reduction of volume and transfer of mode share to other forms of transport. In fact, all figures used in the study assume the continuation of the  increasing trend in automobile usage, despite (albeit) weak attempt by the City of Montreal to the contrary. As many have already commented, this project remains a major intervention in urban space and quality of life that was conceived and designed by traffic engineers.

Sound impact studies

This section was based on previous studies conducted by the MTQ upon which the consultant based their estimates for after the reconstruction. Five sectors were analysed: 1) de la Verendrye; 2) Côte St. Paul (which bizarrely included rue Cazelais, which is clearly in St. Henri…); 3) Westmout; 4) Décarie; and 5) Montréal-Ouest. Their estimates were based on the MTQ’s specifications: the highway lowered (in many places) on embankment and surrounded by sound barriers.

While many areas are projected to remain stable, the part of “Cotê St. Paul” (aka St. Henri) including rue Cazelais are projected to increase by as much as 3 dBA. Westmount, along the 720, is also projected to experience an increase of 1 dBA. The studies claim that  for rue Roberval in the de la Vérendrye sector (see photo at the beginning of this post) the effect will be a decrease by 1 dBA at ground level but an increase by the same at the second and third stories. On the whole, the report on sound studies asserts that with requisite noise barriers, no sector will experience a “medium” or “high” increase in noise. While I can’t claim a very technical understanding of the subject, I know that increases in dBA (decibels) are logarithmic rather than linear, meaning that an increase from 3 to 5, for example, sounds like a doubling.

Air quality studies

Given our society’s concern with the global effects of CO2 emissions and the growing interest in the local effects of highway pollution (see the Direction de Santé Publique’s 2006 report) this section was of great interest. With all the Greek characters measuring parts per million of various different atmospheric gases, this summary will be general. (The study examines several different atmospheric gases and particulate matter in several different locations.) As mentioned earlier, despite the almost unanimous cry from all corners of society for a reduction in automobile usage, the studies commissioned by the MTQ presume an increase in driving and their redesign makes it possible. But fear not, we’ll have a greener highway yet: since cars are getting more efficient with gasoline faster than the auto traffic is increasing, the new Turcot will contribute less to climate change and negative health effects. But ironically, it’ll be thanks to Toyota.

However, while the overall impact will be a reduction in pollution, the report on air quality admits that a highway on an embankment closer to the ground will result in higher concentrations of exhaust in the immediate surrounding areas. This is very troublesome to the residents of rue Cazelais in St. Henri and Rue Roberval, who after living with an sightly elevated highway will now be breathing in more of it.

Results of public consultations

As the MTQ proudly announcees whenever the opportunity arises, the Turcot reconstruction project has been accompanied by over 70 public meetings with concerned citizens, community organizations and other groups. The issues raised range from specific anger regarding expropriations and impacts on rue Cazelais to general concerns about the lack of creativity in envisioning alternatives. The issues are synthesized by theme and each followed by the responses provided by the MTQ , diplomatically rejecting the criticism or promising to reexamine the issue of residential expropriations. (In the event of Cazelais, no alternatives have as of yet been proposed.) If you can stomach the sickly sweet layers of PR spin, I highly suggest checking out PR 3.2 Annexe F.

By this point my bias against the project as proposed and my suspicion of the MTQ’s process must be as palpable as a mouthful of exhaust. Perhaps this is justified, as there are growing numbers of architects and engineers are asserting that the structure can be saved. Or maybe I’m just a paranoid crank who is convinced that the government just wants to get their “shovel ready” hands open and receive some federal dollars before they waste too much time thinking about what would actually be best for Montreal.


  1. “Despite the almost unanimous cry from all corners of society for a reduction in automobile usage, the studies commissioned by the MTQ presume an increase in driving and their redesign makes it possible.”

    Well, why is that

  2. I think you’re a little confused about the acoustic decibel scale.

    First, an increase of 3 dB (not 2 dB) reflects a doubling in air pressure. It doesn’t matter what you started at, 37 -> 40 is as much a doubling as 2 -> 5.

    Second, the decibel scale measures air pressure, not loudness. The general rule of thumb is that a 10 dB increase will be perceived by humans as “twice as loud”. Of course, this assumes the sound is otherwise the same, but that’s what the “A” in “dBA” means.

    Perhaps it’s best if I just translate the figures you gave into rough human perception:

    -1 dBA: 93%
    +1 dBA: 107%
    +3 dBA: 123%

    I think the -/+1 dBA difference is truly negligible. The 3 dBA increase isn’t huge, but it might be worth worrying about.

  3. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks the MTQ’s claim that better fuel emissions will negate the increase of traffic on the Turcot is a bit ridiculous.

    Bruno Bisson at La Presse published this article http://www.cyberpresse.ca/actualites/regional/montreal/200903/26/01-840343-echangeur-turcot-un-dossier-en-evolution.php in on the subject.

    Bisson quotes Alain Dubé, the MTQ’s “Turcot Czar”, who said the project is still “in evolution”. I look forward to seeing what exactly will evolve. One thing’s for sure: if there is any significant change, it will only be thanks to sustained public pressure on the MTQ.

  4. I agree, Jacob. It’s interesting that most of the concern about Turcot has come from Saint Henri and NDG. Somehow, it is not the Island wide issue it should be because what they do here is going to affect everywhere in one way or another.

  5. Comments here are just ridiculous. Some of you might be more educated about urbanism, but highways and automotive technology is just alien to you guys.

    You guys believe that the MTQ is bluffing when stating that traffic would not increase by a mere 10k cars a day, but have you even looked at the plans? The complexe won’t have a single additional lane, where would all those cars go anyways???!! The only reason it will be able to process just a tad more cars is because of smoother curves that will allow cars to keep a steady speed without slowing down. That’s it. When you read the interventions by the MTQ, even they are not sure if it will really be able to process more cars!

    Moreover cars have gained 25% engine efficiency during the last 20 years without any major tech. breakthrough. Now with hybrids and all-electric cars, it’s really not farfetched that the MTQ firmly believes that emission shall be, at worst, the same.

  6. Perhaps I wasn`t clear about when I wrote about the MTQ`s forecasts of increased traffic. I wasn`t suggesting that the MTQ is bluffing in its claim that the highway will accomodate more traffic.

    This is based on the rates of increase in traffic on the Turcot over the past 15 years or so. This is not predicated on redesign; in fact, at 280,000 the Turcot isn`t even at capacity.

    While they`re not adding lanes, they are adding shoulders where there weren`t already. This is required to bring them up to regular highway standards. This is not strictly a capacity increase, but will speed up traffic overall, another disincentive for alternate modes.

  7. So if I follow your logic correctly, let’s put speed bumps on all highways to force people to take the bus.

    Oh man, I love that idea!

  8. Samir,
    If you follow the above logic to the ABSOLUTE EXTREME, then speed bumps on all highways would be logical. However, good planning means means identifying objectives and taking measured, moderate steps to achieve them. Despite officially seeking to reduce single driver vehicle trips, the MTQ is taking steps that will ultimately augment these trips.

  9. Guys your city just needs to be knitted back together at this seam. Your petty squabbles about speed bumps and the freedom of auto travel miss the point. The city beyond those freeway vectors is a wreck at that place in this city.

    Its a brilliant city with a unique way of getting things done. Quit being so pessimistic or move to a place like Houston where you can justifiably doubt the social nature of your fellow humans.

    Whatever comes of the Turcot it will have thought and discussion and debate and reconsideration. It won’t be the ideal you were hoping for but it will be another thoroughly thought out attempt at making good. It’ll wear out too and your grand kids will get to do it again with all that much more insight and politics. That’s the beauty of urbanism. It happens at an almost geological and sedimentitious rate.

    Cheer up. Giving it some thought is noble and it is good- no matter what material state your conclusions come to. They’ll keep doing it until they get it right. All you can do is your best.

    Chirp! You’ve got the best city in the world to talk about.

    TFinch from Texas

  10. It’s great to see some unique content and a good quality blog for once, actually I would be very interested in doing a link exchange with you.

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