While summer may be the peak of construction season here in Quebec, it appears that spring is the height of the planning season. This is the inevitable conclusion one reaches after the recent flurry of plans and counter-plans concerning the future of the Turcot Interchange.
In this post, I’ll compare some of the details from these plans and discuss the what all means as we near the end of a process that has pitted dozens of citizens’ groups, regional environmental groups, the Citiesof Montreal and Westmount and opposition parties against Charest’s government, at a time when ongoing allegations of corruption have seriously undermined the Ministry of Transport’s legitimacy.
In case you’re already dizzy from the many alternatives flying around, I’ll recap the three that are currently on the table, providing as much detail as is currently available.
A revised plan by your friendly neighbourhood MTQ
Tired of looking like a bully that wants to throw people out of their homes so they could play with their toy cars, the Ministry of Transport revised their plan by reducing the number of expropriations required on rue Cazelais from 160 to only 100. While Minister of Transport, Julie Boulet, warned this would result in higher costs, the MTQ believed this gesture would subdue the most vocal opponents of the project.
Given ongoing critiques that vehicle capacity should be reduced in favour of better public transportation options, and that the whole project be reconceived to reflect its urban context, it is comical to imagine that the MTQ believed that by simply addressing the question of expropriations would win them any public favour.
Nonetheless, this “Turcot-lite” remains the official plan on the table.
Stepping up to bat in Iate March, Concordia professor of Urban Planning, Pierre Gauthier, and Pierre Brisset, a local architect and long-time observer and critic of the MTQ, released a plan for the Turcot Interchange and environs they call Turcot 375, which invokes Montreal’s upcoming 375th birthday. This plan calls for a 40% reduction of auto capacity on the Turcot by targeting both inter-neighbourhood trips and commuters, while maintaining its capacity for regional trips. Notably, their plan links lower NDG to the southwest with new residential developments via a connection to Cavendish Boulevard.
Additional public transport provision is a central element of this plan, including a reserved bus lane along the 20 from the West Island, and a tramway corridor through the Turcot Yards with branches into Lasalle and Lachine. Their plan is supported by a 3D model (video) which details how the 15 would be buried south of the Lachine Canal, stimulating development of a forgotten industrial pocket known as the ‘Secteur Cabot’, and linking Côte St. Paul to the Lachine Canal. By eliminated several ramps in the core of the interchange, the much contested expropriation of homes on rue Cazelais in St. Henri and 780 St. Remi would be avoided.
This plan has the benefit of being supported by actual travel data, such as the AMT’s 2008 Origin-Destination Survey, which noted that while transit usage in Montreal has increased by 15%, car usage is down a slight 1%. Reasonable estimates were made about many cars could be removed from various ramps, lending credibility to an ambitious plan.
The Tremblay/Bergeron Plan
While there were many planners and engineers involved in the creation of the City of Montreal’s latest plan, the mayor and inimitable Richard Bergeron have been its most vocal emissaries. Spacing Montreal’s Devin Alfaro reported on the announcement of this roundabout-inspired interchange on Wednesday. As reported, this plan would liberate considerable space around the interchange, feature tramways to Lachine and Lasalle, while likewise freeing up land in the Turcot Yards for development.
While not supported by any travel data, this plan has the benefit of being supported by some lovely water-colour images and impressive renderings of what the ‘milieu de vie’ might be like in the proposed ‘Quartier de la Falaise’. In her rebuttal to this plan, MTQ minister Julie Boulet argued that this plan would cost between $4 and $6 billion, and would not be completed until 2022, although when pressed she refused to detail how this cost estimate was arrived at. Since the MTQ is hardly an impartial party, this failure to disclose basic information is troublesome.
While the City of Montreal and Turcot 375 have many commonalities—reduced traffic flow, the Lachine/Lasalle tramways, highway 20 reserved bus lane, and residential redevelopment of the Turcot Yards—there are significant differences that should be highlighted.
First, in the Turcot yards, the City calls for a long, narrow corridor of development along the proposed tramway. But with no few connections to outside neighbourhoods, will this really be a ‘quartier’? How many residents there will make use of an expensive new tramway? In contrast, the Turcot 375 project focuses on development around the extension of Cavendish into the Yards, and recognizes that land development is stimulated by access to destinations, not by sleek new transit projects.
In the Cabot/Côte St. Paul sector, the City of Montreal plan advocates a ‘structure habitée’, hidden by new construction and incorporated into the urban fabric with things like skate parks, newsstands and other low-intensity uses. While certainly a more affordable option than Turcot 375’s plan to bury the highway, one wonders what would stimulate the kind of private development envisioned by Tremblay and Bergeron in this depressed area. Why isn’t that already happening now? It seems that revitalizing this forgotten—yet strategically-located—area will only happen with a major investment, but the cost of burying this small section of highway could equal the rest of project put together.
Three plans, one future
As with most transportation issues, resolution to the Turcot question will be brought about by political forces, not sound planning or economic studies. This unfortunate reality tends to be true the more hideously expensive the public work, and this one surely takes the cake. So what political forces will settle the Turcot’s fate? Provincially, Premier Charest’s popularity is in freefall, due to the yet-unproven allegations over influence-peddling over Superior Court appointments. Meanwhile, the continued refusal of the government to launch a public inquiry into the many accusations of collusion between the Liberal party and the construction industry continues to undermine the public trust in the government. The PQ has capitalized on these weaknesses, and according to the Globe and Mail, their popularity has increased marginally, with Pauline Marois surpassing Charest as Quebeckers preferred Premier. Ironically, it may be the PQ’s nationalist principles that prevent it from breaking through to Quebec’s more moderate voters.
Montreal city council is enjoying a prolonged honeymoon after the fall election, with all parties in unanimous opposition to the province’s plans for the City’s highways. Differences between parties have been supplanted by a desire to wrest some of the control over metropolitan transportation from the provincial government, a lever of power the province will not give up easily. How will all this end? The best case scenario would be major reforms to Montreal’s metropolitan governance, with the devolution of regional transportation and planning responsibilities, as in the Vancouver area. But perhaps that’s dreaming in techni-colour.
Given the province’s upper hand in municipal matters, the future of the Turcot may rest with the Parti Quebecois, and their ability to make the PLQ fear for their political future if they cannot respond to the increasingly explicit alternatives being proposed for the metropole’s future.