Sitting in the over-heated community centre in St. Henri, hearing one presenter after another condemn the Turcot project, it became clear that the opposition to the Turcot is growing stronger, and gaining new allies. Indeed, with all candidates in the upcoming municipal election as well as the Parti Québecois coming out against the project as proposed, it appears that the hard work of groups like Mobilization Turcot and other feisty community voices has not fallen on deaf ears.
Since many are predicting that this issue will remain on the municipal agenda leading up to the election this fall, I thought a review of the memoirs presented by the major parties might be in order. This is not to overlook the presentations by community groups, academics, governmental agencies and concerned individuals, many of which were better researched (and more interesting) than the politicians.
The view from City Hall: Mayor Tremblay, M. Lavallé and the Union Montréal
By far the most detailed plan of the candidates, the City used the muscle of its planning staff to lay out its issues with the project in a methodical, quantitative language (in other words, they used the dollar sign). After devoting half of their memoir to identifying the lofty goals espoused in its Transportation Plan, the city cited a few of their major issues with the project.
::: Lost revenue to the city due to the highway’s increased footprint. According to an internal city report, the estimated cost of such large embankments to the City’s tax revenue is around $40 million per year, for which the City requested compensation in the form of the deed to the Turcot Yards. Of course, this gift may not seem quite as large as it was assumed that the City would take control of redeveloping this space anyway. Perhaps more interestingly to fans of the Yards were the hints about the future use of the space as an “éco-parc industriel” in the form of “transit oriented development”. Unless anyone can better translate this jargon, I guess we’ll have to wait to see what they are actually proposing.
::: No to a Public Private Partnership (PPP). Due to the complexity of the project and to avoid cutting corners, the City requested that the MTQ’s proposal to manage the project as a Public Private Partnership (PPP) be changed to a more conventional, government-driven project.
::: Clarification on expropriations. Requests were made for concrete details to the vague promises made by the MTQ concerning the replacement of affordable housing and relocation of an Éco-Quartier slated for demolition. On the subject of the demolition of 160 homes on rue Cazelais be found, the Mayor requested further discussions with the Ministry to determine whether they are absolutely necessary. In other words, no stand was taken here.
::: Clear as mud. The City’s memoir contains many vague statements such as: “[F]ace à l’urgence et à l’importance de reconstruire le complexe Turcot, la Ville offre son entière collaboration au MTQ, mais considère que la conception et la réalisation de ce projet doivent se faire en véritable partenariat régional.” Some might call this diplomacy at its finest, other more cynical types would call this playing both sides. If the Turcot project is significantly altered, Tremblay can take credit; if not, he can still court them to fund his tramway through the Old Port.
The Challenger: Louis Harel and Vision Montréal
No shorter on details than the Mayor, Louis Harel presented a memoir chock full of feisty rhetoric and equally lofty goals. The details of her BAPE memoir suggested that the Vision Montréal team may spent a night or two coming up with some transportation plans of their own, including:
::: Retaining a raised highway, not building on embankments. They claim this would prevent the expropriations on rue Cazelais, which may be true, however it appears that it is the large on/off-ramp at the McGill mega-hospital that threatens is the problem. To their credit, however, Vision Montréal demanded outright that the MTQ avoid demolition of the homes on rue Cazelais.
::: Two new public transit projects, including the often-discussed Lachine LRT and electric buses on Autoroute 20, a proposition that may have come to some politician in a dream and will surely end up in the over-flowing waste basket of unrealized transit projects.
::: A larger buffer at the foot of the Falaise St. Jacques. In fact, Vision Montreal wants to see the highway running through the middle of the Turcot Yards which they call a “compromise” but others might call a waste of that space.
::: More highways in tunnels. Vision Montréal called for the tunnelization of the 720 from the Turcot to Guy, which will supposedly prevent expropriations. While I cannot claim authority in matters of engineering, it seems that more underground highways are of the “cut and cover” variety, which DO require expropriations.
The Underdog: Richard Bergeron and the Projet Montréal
Having seen Mr. Bergeron’s presentation full of lovely European cities with beautiful tramways more than once in the past, my it was a pleasant surprise to see something different from Projet Montréal’s memoir. Mr. Bergeron’s opening statement set the tone quite forcefully: “Rien n’a plus de conséquences sur le développement d’une ville que les choix faits au niveau des
infrastructures de transport.” Sage words, so what do they suggest?
Rather than delving directly into the Turcot, Bergeron demonstrated his academic side, giving a lesson on the connection between parking and downtown car use. This is a good point and a savvy political move; by noting the incoherence of the City’s plan to reduce automobile usage while authorizing 25,000 new parking spaces in the past three years, Bergeron may have found an issue that can set him apart again now that everybody is talking tramways and “sustainable transportation”.
Projet Montréal did not outline specific alternatives or transit projects, choosing instead to focus on the concept of the high-capacity “urban boulevard”, drawing on examples of highway removals in Portland, San Francisco and Seoul. The Projet Montréal memoir called for a total re-conception of the movement of people and goods in Montreal, involving the “le déclassement pur et simple de l’ensemble de ce corridor autoroutier.” (While I understand all those words separately, I needed a translation to confirm whether Bergeron is actually suggesting to tear the whole highway network down.) I suspect in this case Mr. Bergeron’s predilection for superlatives may be getting the better of him; even the best possible outcome for the Turcot must involve some highways for moving freight onto and off the island.
While the focus has been on views held by the contenders for the Mayor’s office, it’s interesting to see that the Parti Québec has jumped into the fray. After a rousing (and rounded) brief by PQ MNA for Saint Henri – Sainte Anne, François Lemay, the PQ has questioned the legitimacy of an environmental hearing that considers only the project’s immediate environmental effects and demanded that the Liberal government abandon its PPP model.
But whether all the politicians are hitting the right issues or not, the important thing is that they have come out swinging. They have made it clear (to varying degrees) that Montreal has serious problems with this project. While we wait for the BAPE to decide where to apply its rubber stamp on this dossier, opponents to the MTQ’s project should be thinking about how to keep this item on the municipal agenda, even as politicians who have stuck their necks out a bit fight their natural tendency to retreat.