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 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.