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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

A Highway Waiting to Happen

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highway waiting to happen

A thick white stripe across the Eastern side of Laval marks the embryo of autoroute 25. It’s come quite a way since Spring 2009. After 3 years of construction (and 3 more of controversy), the bridge and highway are due to be completed in May 2011.

Look at all that farmland and woodland in Laval just waiting to be developed. Some, but not all of it will be protected by agricultural zoning, at least for now (Laval zoning map). The provincial Commission de la protection des terresagricoles du Québec , or CPTAQ, has been known to make exceptions readily enough, and municipalities are pushing for direct jurisdiction over agricultural dezoning.

The debate over the “pont de la 25” was my first experience with highway politics in Quebec.

Press releases were flying around Équiterre’s sustainable transportation office when I interned there in 2006. The City of Montreal came out against the project, prioritizing new commuter trains before additional bridge-building, and for a while it seemed to herald a hopeful new era of enlightened transportation planning. But it didn’t reach to the provincial offices: the MTQ went ahead and tweaked the new urban plan to fit their highway. Then they arguably botched the BAPE process, holding public consultations before the complete plans for the bridge and the environmental impact assessment were made public. Equiterre, Greenpeace and the Comité Régional took the case to the Quebec Superior Court, but Charest gave the go-ahead to start construction before the case was even seen in court.

For me, it was an initiation to unsustainable, undemocratic, and arguably unnecessary transportation infrastructure.

Montreal’s First Bridge Toll

Five years ago it seemed pretty silly to build a pricey bridge between agricultural Laval and East-end Montreal, two areas with little demand for the transportation of either goods or people between them.

I guess I was naive because apparently folks are falling all over themselves to buy credits for the new bridge toll, months before the highway is even scheduled to open (I’d be curious to see a study on where those folks live and work). La Presse columnist François Cardinal points out that drivers are evidentally prepared to shell out for the added value of less jammed highways (but not, he emphasizes, to use an existing and unimproved service). Of course it won’t be long before added sprawl crops up along this route, and it goes from being new-and-improved to  habitual and increasingly congested.

Montreal’s first bridge toll only present-day toll bridge won’t feature any toll-booths, rather users will have their license plates photographed and be billed either to their line account or by mail (not sure how this will work with rentals or carshares). It will cost between $1.80 and $2.40 to cross the bridge. However, those who don’t have an account with the private company that runs the tolls will get slapped with an extra $5 administrative fee for each crossing.  The a25’s extensive FAQ about the toll does not explain how the collected funds will be used and they did not reply to my inquiry.



  1. This whole dossier makes me so angry, but it doesn’t really come as a surprise. Despite the Charest government’s rhetoric about sustainable development, they have no real interest in a paradigm change. Sure, a contract to a private company for wind-power development here, a subsidy for energy efficiency there, but no real structural changes to the development model.

  2. There is no bike path/sidewalk on this new Autoroute 25 bridge.

    It’s cars, and only cars.

    This is the future pf public services. If you don’t pay/can’t pay, forget about benefiting from these sort of infrastructure services. I call it highway robbery, which seems accurate enough.

  3. I assume rentals and carshares will be charged directly to the agency where the plate is registered, as is done with the 407 ETR highway in Ontario which is based on similar technology:

    And we all know where the collected revenue is going…into maintanance of the bridge. Most of the revenue however will be profits to the private bridge company.

    In general im not a fan of highway expansion, but wasn’t this a bridge connecting two existing highways? There’s something to be said about increased links, efficiency of the transportation network, and the reduction in travel times/emissions as a result of the new bridge.

    I’d like to see a larger piece/study that evaluates these merits.

  4. Does the CPTAQ really “make exceptions readily enough?” I understand that the main reason that there is still no train station in Mirabel is because the CPTAQ refuses to rezone agricultural land, and is insisting that a nearby brown-field development be used.

    I also think too much conjecture is presented as given fact in this article, even if I agree with much of the overall argument it presents.

  5. From the A-25 website:

    “The A25 Bridge includes a multi-use path for pedestrians, cyclists and inline skaters. The path also includes an observation deck on the cable-stayed portion of the bridge, over the deepest part of the river.
    On the Montreal side, users can access the multi-use path from the Gouin Boulevard cycle path. On the Laval side, users may access the path from the Lévesque Boulevard cycle path.
    Use of the multi-use path is free.”

  6. I believe that the fact that the highway is being built as a PPP with almost no public funds makes it a good project. The part people seem to be downplaying is the bus reserved lane which will cut travel times from Terrebonne to Radisson metro down to around 20 minutes (25 at rush hour). For an investment of $0 the MTQ has created a bigger benefit to transit in the Terrebonne area and eastern Laval than their stupid train at $500M.

    I believe that the new transit corridors that will exist will attract more people to transit than the autoroute will bring into cars. After all, once they get on the island, where will all those cars go? Other roads into downtown are already congested and there is no space.

    As for the tolls, I believe that the MTQ recieves a significant share for the next few decades and then 100% thereafter, but I don’t remember where I heard this.

  7. Also, the land has been reserved for a highway way before the CPTAQ existed.

    Either way, the CPTAQ decision in Mirabel is retarded.

  8. J’espère bien que les terrains autour de la 25 seront développés!! 

    Sinon la couronne nord continuera à se développer à un rythme fou (Repentigny, Mascouche, Terrebonne, etc).

    Pour imposer une limitation arbitraire et loufouque sur ces terrains et obliger les gens à habiter plus loin?

    Coupon l’herbe sous les pieds de ces banlieues (trop) éloignés et favorisons le développement le plus proche de MOntréal que possible.

  9. Le pont de la 25 isn’t Montreal’s first toll bridge. The Champlain Bridge was for almost 25 years. Along with part of A15, A40 and A10 in the 70s and 80s.

    Unfortunately, we still cars and trucks to move people and things around. And without another equivalent means of personal transportation, cars are here to stay. While they have taken a significant place in the past years, slowly the pendulum has begun its reserve path. Reserving car-culture and dominance is a complex and elaborate issue, which requires the implication of thousands of design professionals, public servants, activists, politicians and citizens. Instead of fighting each other, may be we should work together. The MTQ has learned its lessons from Turcot; it can no longer shove projects within its metropolis in the same way it has done in the past.

    Even if I personally do not agree with the highways policies of our current provincial government, Montréal has reached a saturation point in many aspects of its transportation network (highways, roadways, commuter services, active transportation path) and multiple investments are needed. This means that the car-enthusiastic MTQ will be able to see some its plans realized with some protest and disappointment. The MTQ has a lot of work to do to change its internal pro-car culture (May be with all the Baby-boomers going into retirement will help).

    As a active reader of this website, design professional and former student journalist, it may be important to research the facts a little bit more, even if your intention is to write a biased piece. Having the facts from the other side of the story may help to augment one’s arguments or help to reader better understand the entire picture. Columns, opinion pieces are trickier than standard journalism piece. It’s important to write beyond the personal rant and testimonial.

    In a more general way, I understand the writers are young, motivated, pro-greening people, but too often the land use/urban planning related articles seem to lack in general basic research and tend to not get the right facts. Most of the information is public and available on the web. Seeing a thing from one-side is easy… And one can be perceived as single-minded as the MTQ. There’s good and bad sides to both sides of the each story. Why not talk about them? Or at least give the reader an understanding than they are known by the writer.

  10. M_architect, thanks for pointing out that there were previously toll bridges in Quebec; I had no idea, that being slighly “before my time,” especially as my family didn’t travel by car when I was growing up. The big question then (something for another post, perhaps?) is what happened to them?

    And yes, i’m aware that this is a very superficial look at a complex issue – my limited experience with a project that hasn’t been conceived or designed “for me”. But I believe I’m correct in that the MTQ pushed this project through with little consideration for the City’s transportation plans, priorities and alternative propositions, similar to what they tried with Turcot. For me, this is the crux of the problem, even if the construction may have some positive outcomes.

  11. Ah yes, lining up at the Champlain bridge to throw in 25¢ or a token (I still have some of these tokens; quite a collectors item now.).  Highways 13 and 15 also had toll plazas which were abolished around the same time, ca. 1990.  On the 13 you can see where the plazas used to be; the first one was just north of the Bisson bridge – look for a diferent style of street light posts.

    The Victoria, J-C, and Mercier bridges all had tolls, too.

    The Mercier bridge opened in 1934 and the toll was 50¢.  According to the inflation calculator that would be $8.18 today.

    I don’t recall the amount to cross the J-C but you could use the same tokens as you would for the Champlain.

    And as for the Victoria; in 2009 The Gazoo had a special page for the bridge’s 150th anniversary which I saved.  It has a picture of the toll plaza in 1958 and the price was 25¢.  That’s $1.96 today adjusted for inflation.

  12. Les libéraux ne servent qu’à une seule chose, remplir les poches de leurs tinamis (et pas avec du béton!). Ça n’a pas changé d’un iotà depuis Robert Bourassa; à toutes les fois qu’ils sont au pouvoir, les libéraux sont toujours éventuellement englués dans un scandale d’argent ou de traffic d’influences. C’est normal: les libéraux sont un parti d’obédience anglo-saxonne, où seuls les hommes d’affaires ratés font de la politiques (ceux qui ne le sont pas font… de l’argent).

    La seule raison pourquoi le train de banlieue pour Mascouche fait un détour ridicule par Repentigny est pour empêcher que les gens dans l’est de Laval ne prennent le train et qu’ils prennent plutôt le pont, hisoire de remplir les poches des tinamis qui ont construit le pont.

    Que le train desserve l’est de Montréal est un faux argument; avec les horaires prévus et avec les tarifs qui seront appliqués, personne de Montréal ne prendra le train.

    La commission de protection du territoire agricole a été une des meilleures choses qui soit arrivée au Québec, mais malgré ça, trop des meilleures terres arables du Québec sont toujours sacrifiées à l’étalement urbain pour construire des banlieues que personne ne voudra plus habiter quand le pétrole coûtera $200.

  13. The last bridge toll was abolished on May 4, 1990 for the Champlain Bridge. Tolls on Autoroute 15 were abolished following an outcry by municipalities north of the city citing discrimination that their resident motorists had to pay whereas south shore residents did not. Historically there certainly were tolls on the Jacques Cartier, Victoria, and Mercier Bridge with using interchangeable tokens. There was a scandal in the 1950s whereby tollbooth attendants were caught stealing. The new route 25 bridge linking Montreal to Laval will reduce existing traffic congestion, especially for trucks travelling from route 640 and 440 in Laval through to the south shore, thereby bypassing route 13, 15, and 19 onto route 40. Furthermore, drivers eastbound on route 40 will then have an added opportunity to reach Laval via the 25 north should traffic be congested. How many will remember there was a proposal to link Toupin Blvd. across the river into Laval. It never happened. The Route 25 bridge is definitely needed–as will be the completed Route 30 bypassing the city, beginning at exit 29 on route 20 in Vaudreuil. On the other hand, connecting route 440 west to link up with route 40 is a bad idea since it would necessitate running it through Ile Bizard and thus through Madame Marois’ exclusive mansion. Oops!

  14. I got lost on December 2011 and unintentionally crossed the Laval bridge
    at Autoroute 25. To my surprise I received in the mail a photo of my
    license and invoice for $1.80 plus administration fee of $5.00
    I thought I
    might have run through a toll booth without paying, but could not remember seeing one. Now I know, there is none. Yes it is very upsetting to pay that $5.00 administration fee for a toll fee of $1.80 – what an unbalanced system
    I hope this does not happen when tolls start to appear on other bridges like the new Champlain (if/whenever that is built)

  15. Hello:

    I hope this message reaches someone as concerned as I. I realize this posting is one year after the opening of the Autoroute 25 pay bridge, but I have a major concern.

    As a retired Police Officer, I was under the impression all information concerning my license plate was availaible to Police Agencies ONLY. This via the C
    RPQ (Centre de Resnseignments Policieres du Quebec) The fact that a privately owned bridge leaves me wondering, who gets my information for mailing purposes, as well as obtains my credit card information for payment. Are these civilians? Are the Government employees? Has the Quebec Government gone against its own rules and regulations? It was a big enough scandal a few years ago when it was discovered that employees of the SAAQ were selling information on individuals to the “criminal element”…(remember when the reporter from the Journal de Montreal go shot), now we have to worry about who has access to our private information when we go over a pay bridge! I hope someone reads this and has the same questions I do.

  16. As soon as i recieved a registered mail by mail then i called the A25 center right away to know what is this letter all about?i find out during the conversation that i crossed the bridge in the middle of the dark at night around 2 am five months ago by mistake.I was charged of 44.03 $ so rediculous.It was the only one letter i recieved but they said,they sent me the first one a few days after i crossed the bridge that is why it is now 44.03$.It wasn’t true,they are trying to make their money or highway robberry.So,i don’t know what to do?Should i be in court with them or just pay it?We’d need some one to have power to speak up for those who could not speak for themself.

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