New pro-transit alliance warns of approaching traffic paralysis

An alliance of 26 provincial organizations formed last week to lobby for increased government investment in public transit.

The alliance, named Transit, has pointed to the several major roadwork projects taking place over the next few years as making the need for improved public transit infrastructure more urgent.

Karel Mayrand, General Director for Quebec at the David Suzuki Foundation, a Vancouver-based environmental foundation, said public transit at its current capacity would not be able to accommodate the extra commuters seeking to avoid roadwork.

“We want to avoid a situation where transit is supposed to absorb extra pressure because the roads cannot take as many people as they can in a normal situation, and at the same time transit systems collapse too because we haven’t invested enough money to maintain the infrastructure,” said Mayrand.

“If that situation would happen in 2015, then we – definitely Montreal, but also the regions in Quebec – would be paralyzed, and commuters would be hostages of both a transit and a road system that are not reliable anymore,” he added.

Major renovation projects are scheduled to begin soon at the Champlain Bridge, Louis Hippolyte-Lafontaine tunnel and Ville-Marie expressway. The controversial multibillion dollar plan to repair the Turcot interchange is set to begin in 2013, and construction on the Mercier Bridge is already underway.

Caroline Larose, spokesperson for Transport Québec, said the projects were scheduled to minimize traffic disruption.

“We will make sure that work in St. Pierre will start after the completion of the Turcot. So the schedule is there,” she said.

According to Larose, several lanes on the Mercier Bridge are scheduled to open September 6, while other construction continues. She also noted examples of the provincial government investing in public transit infrastructure.

“We’ve got at least seven measures in public transit, and one of them is that we’re buying 50 buses [for Montreal, Longeuil and Laval],” said Larose.

She described improvements to train infrastructure, including more lines, better arrival frequency of trains on some lines, and more parking spaces at train stations.

“I think we’re getting there,” she said. “These are measures put together to reduce the impact of roadwork, so it’s specifically for that. But of course we keep on investing in public transit − that’s one of our priorities.”

Mayrand, however, said more investment in public transit is needed, and needed soon.

“Investments in transit are decreasing compared to what they are now,” he said. “We also know from the Transit Authority that the needs, just to maintain current infrastructures, are quite large. So we need now – not in two years – we need as early as 2012 to reinvest significant resources in transit.”

Mayrand pointed to the fifty year old Montreal metro stations as one example of transit infrastructure in need of investment. For him, the problem is that money is being spent on improving and expanding roads when it should be spent on transit.

“There are some infrastructures that are being refurbished and repaired,” said Mayrand. “Supposedly they are the same infrastructure, but they are increasing capacity, so that’s kind of equivalent to new roads.”

“I guess one way to frame it is just to say that we have a transportation crisis, and the only way to solve it is not to pour more money in concrete. It’s to pour more money and more investment in both roads and transit to strengthen the system as a whole, instead of dealing with each part separately” he continued.

Mayrand said more people have been using transit in recent years as a result of public investment, but also that such investment is planned to decrease in coming years as roads are repaired and expanded.

“Unfortunately there’s not enough money that’s planned for future re-investments as we go towards 2015,” he said.

“Supply drives demand here, and we need to make sure we’re offering the right supply for people to have options to make the most economic choices for them,” Mayrand continued. “But to offer the right choices so we don’t keep people alone in their cars, the way it is right now for most people, because that’s the way to ensure that we’re going to have traffic jams for the next generation.”