Commentary | Radical reform needed on Turcot

The Ministère des transports du Québec (MTQ) unveiled its latest plans to renovate the crumbling Turcot interchange last week. The Turcot is a tangle of three highways – two urban expressways and the Champlain Bridge – that has been slowly rotting since it was constructed with low-grade concrete in the sixties. It first became the target of much-needed renovation plans by the province back in 2007.

The MTQ’s 2007 plan met vehement opposition from local residents – the proposals would have increased the Turcot’s capacity and demolished hundreds housing units. The new $3-billion plan will still destroy over a hundred dwellings, increase the interchange’s car capacity, and mire St. Henri in construction for years to come.

 Until last year, Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay rejected the province’s plans, going so far as to join opposition parties in city hall and the mayors of the region’s other cities in demanding a better proposal from Quebec City – one that included Projet Montréal’s propositions for reducing traffic by forty per cent, no expropriations, and greater public transit. Now Tremblay has gone back on his word and thrown his weight behind the MTQ’s project, which fails to take into account local residents, the environment, or sound urban planning. When Richard Bergeron, Projet Montréal’s leader and member of the city’s executive committee for urban planning, refused to support the new project, Tremblay forced him to resign.

 Promotional materials for the new plan are cloaked in “green” rhetoric and imagery, yet the plan contains no budgetary commitments to the proposed streetcar line, suburban train, park, or bicycle path, among other improvements. An exclusive bus-and-taxi lane – an attempt to facilitate public transport – does not even run straight to its downtown destination and restricts access to on- and off-ramps. The planned Quartier du Canal – a neighbourhood that would sit between the Lachine Canal and the Turcot – would be surrounded by heavy industry and a planned a bio-methane plant, which according to current laws must be 400 metres away from any housing. As Bergeron has said, when it comes to greening initiatives, this plan “is a tremendous fraud.”

 The provincial government has been missing the point for three years in their attempts to compromise on Turcot renovations. Repairing the Turcot to get another 50 to 100 years of use out of it without reducing its automobile capacity and dramatically increasing public transit funding is a misappropriation of government money and a major missed opportunity to change the way the city works. Certainly, the interchange is vital to Montreal’s economy and residents of the suburbs, and thus needs to be fixed – but to maintain the status quo is not an option. Downtown Montreal needs by all means to remain accessible to residents of surrounding areas, but the means of access need to shift away from highways and toward public transit.

A solution to such unnecessary congestion and pollution can be found in Toronto’s plan to create a suburban light-rail system connecting suburban residents to the city. Other cities around the world – like Paris, Seoul, Barcelona and Vancouver – have found similarly inventive ways, like improved commuter trains, to reduce car traffic while bearing citizens’ mobility in mind.

With Montreal’s award-winning public transportation system, the improvement and extension of these services to the suburbs should more than adequately alleviate the issues of congestion and accessibility for suburban residents working in the city. Instead of pouring billions of dollars into a project that entrenches automobile use and will see people lose their homes, investment in public transportation needs to be made the first priority in balancing the need to preserve access to the city while reducing traffic in the long-term.