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.