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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

MTQ Plans to Cover one Trench Highway while Digging Another

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According to an article in today’s La Presse, the Société Radio-Canada is pressuring the province to patch up the ugly gash created by the Ville Marie trench highway alongside its upcoming development. The Palais de Congrès, which straddles the highway just west of Saint-Urbain, is also itching to expand. The ministère des Transports du Québec (MTQ) has agreed to put out a call for quotes on the feasibility of such a massive cover-up job.

Previous studies have found that the cost of covering the highway are in the range of $100 million for a 1.5 km streatch and, even then, the covered highway would not be able to support building construction. In an ideal world, the re-covered highway could be used to create a lifeline of vibrant public space through an increasingly populated city centre.

But unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case so far. About 2.6 kms of the highway are already covered and the reclaimed land is used largely for parkinglots (which explains the proliferation of barely-used lots in Griffintown) as well as some poorly planned parkspace (Viger park has the feel of a desolate fringe area and is used mainly by by homeless people, if at all).
Viger Square

Viger square is barely used: nary a footprint in the public park several days after a snowfall.

Fortunately, recent experience shows that the land gained by recovering a highway need not be lost: the Quartier International created an innovative network of public and semi-private spaces that complete the street grid and reconnect Old Montreal with the business district. The Centre CDP Capitol building, through elegant engineering, is anchored on either side of the highway with a bright interior corridor over the highway itself.

If plans to cover the highway do come to light, careful planning will have to be done at the municipal and borough scale in order to ensure that the recovered space acts as more than a band-aid.


Inside the Centre CDP Capitol which stradles the Ville Marie (photo by marcella bona, cc flickr)

Benoit Labonté told La Presse that he’ll include covering the Ville Marie in his deck of upcoming election promises.

Meanwhile, the MTQ is still plodding ahead with plans to build a brand new trench highway along Notre Dame Est. Not only does the provincial plan fail to promote neighbourhood development and public transit, it would also sever our access to the East-end waterfront for the all time, short of an equally expensive cover-up project in the future.

Why can’t Quebec learn from past mistakes (including the Ville Marie and Decarie expressways) and build this one right the first time round? La Coalition pour humaniser la rue Notre-Dame is petitioning Quebec to come up with a better plan.


  1. …it was my understanding that while the covered portion will not support a building (hence how impressive the CDP building really is), the trench was designed to be able to put buildings beside it with covered top, such as we see just east of the Champ-de-mars métro station.

    And yes, the Parc Viger is dreadful, although when it was recycled into an event space for the Gay Games, it worked exceedingly well indeed.

  2. I have been wanting the rest of the uncovered sections of the V-M expressway to be covered. I am glad that this is on the radar. That said, I wish they could trench the expressway a slightly deeper in order to truly create a tunnel and to better insulate the traffic from the city-scape. I am not surprised at all that the PDC wants to expand eastward. My big concern is that it reinforces the separation of OLMO with the CBD, as is the case with the current Palais (though this has been alleviated somewhat with the addition of public spaces and smart design). That last thing we want is a huge wall in front of the Palais de Justice, (new and old) and City Hall. That said, a building that is architecturally daring in conception (shape, materials), could become a focal point of the neighborhood. As an example, imagine something like the Guggenheim in Bilbao/Disney Hall in LA: it would attract people to look at it.

    In an ideal world, I would have LOVED the V-M expressway to have been tunneled from the get-go and a long public space designed above it, with both Viger and St Antoine transformed into broader, tree-lined major west – east – boulevards (respectively) lined with office, retail, and residential projects. Think Champs-Elysees here.

  3. Great article.

    I live about 100m from the Viger “park” and have been really disappointed that the space wasn’t used to its potential. It definitely does feel deserted, year round.

    I read this blog every day, thanks very much for all your work!


  4. That would be nice, but I doubt, with the surrounding neighborhoods, that a wide Champs-Elysees style boulevard would be able to attract that much foot traffic. It would probably end up closer to another Rene-Levesque.

  5. Il est intéressant de constater l’évolution de ce projet.

    J’ai fait une recherche sur ce projet dans le cadre d’un cours à l’université il y a 2 ans. On disait alors que l’autoroute serait recouverte d’une dalle de béton d’ici 2009 et que par la suite, le terrain serait utilisé majoritairement par des nouveaux pavillons du CHUM ainsi que par une nouvelle annexe du palais des congrès.

    Le carré Viger devait quant à lui être totalement redessiné. Les murs qui encloisonnent le parc devaient disparaître et le béton devait laisser place à la verdure.

    Je suis étonné de constater que l’idée du CHUM n’est plus mentionné à présent.

  6. I love Viger Park, but sadly it scares me as well, with all the used needles lying all over the place.
    A shame really.
    As well, the last time I was in the area in the early fall, the waterfall was no longer in service.

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