Tuesday, November 9, 2010
THE LATEST DRAFT OF THE TURCOT PROJECT IS STILL UNACCEPTABLE. HERE’S WHY.
This morning, during an invitation-only press conference, Quebec Transport Minister Sam Hamad unveiled the latest version of the Turcot Interchange reconstruction plan. As expected, the plan is far from meeting Montrealers’ expectations. Here’s why.
1) A concept out of step with the challenges of the 21st Century
In functional terms, the province’s Turcot plan simply retraces the original interchange. Only the construction technique is different. The Quebec transport ministry has effectively carbon-copied the 1960 concept, including its idea of modernity and progress. In so doing, the ministry avoids the fundamental question: how does this outdated structure fit into an urban vision that extends to 2050 and beyond?
2) No investment in public transport
The transport ministry ignored the city’s proposal to balance its overall investment by installing a cutting-edge electric transit system. This modern tram would have linked Lachine and Lasalle to downtown and served as the spine of a new Quartier de la Falaise, along the St. Jacques escarpment. As the three Laval metro stations have shown, investing in effective, attractive systems is a must-have to accomplish any meaningful shift from private vehicles to public transportation.
Instead, the ministry has offered 1 reserved bus lane in each direction on the future Highway 20 (A-20). From the start, this proposal is barely credible, since the lanes would only run along the 3 km of the Turcot yard: what use will such a short segment be? Furthermore, the province is not known for keeping its promises where reserved lanes are concerned. For example, the A-25 bridge, supposedly built with the best intentions for public transit, included no such lanes on completion.
3) Increased traffic capacity
The Quebec Transport Ministry says its project will not increase the vehicle capacity of the east-west axis (A-20 and A-720). This claim is false. In effect, the plan’s proposal to reconfigure interchange curves, add shoulders and widen access ramps will increase the paved surface by 40-50%, something that, at any rate, translates into greater traffic capacity.
4) Hundreds of millions wasted to move Highway 20 to the north side of the Turcot Yard
Currently, Autoroute 20 and the CN railroad tracks lie to the south of the Turcot yard, along Notre-Dame and parallel to the industrial zones lining both sides of the Lachine Canal. The provincial Transport Ministry has chosen to move the highway and the tracks to the north side of the yard, contrary to the city’s April proposal. The municipal proposal would have saved hundreds of millions of dollars, funds that could have been invested in a high-quality public transport system linking Lachine, Lasalle and downtown via the Turcot yard.
5) Turning a hillside park into a dead zone
In moving the A-20 from the Lachine Canal to the foot of the St-Jacques escarpment, the ministry will totally cut off the area. The province’s plan includes provision for a pleasant park at the foot of the hill, complete with bike path. Unfortunately, the only way to access this park would be via a footbridge crossing over the highway and tracks. Few cyclists would do it, put off by the difficulty of access and potential safety problems. What is more likely to happen is that this isolated area will become a destination for the homeless, and a no-go area for other potential users.
6) A canal district that will never see the light of day
One of the most promising elements of the City of Montreal’s proposal was the creation of a 70-hectare Quartier de la Falaise at the foot of the St Jacques escarpment. This Quartier could accommodate up to 8,000 homes or 15,000 residents, as well as 3-4 million square feet of office, retail, service and other community space. These buildings would represent an investment of some $3.5 billion. This green and pleasant neighbourhood, built along the tram line linking Lachine and downtown, would help halt the exodus of Montreal families to the suburbs.
The province’s decision to move the A-2o and the tracks to the foot of the cliff effectively kills the Quartier concept; instead, the Ministry is proposing a Quartier du canal. In so doing, they seem to have forgotten that the Lachine canal is here lined on both sides by industrial facilities, including the huge Kruger paper plant. The plan also ignores the fact that the City of Montreal is set to authorize the construction of a bio-methane plant on the canal’s south bank, and that this type of industry must be at least 400 metres from any habitation. So… a neighbourhood flanked by a highway, a string of factories, and a bio-methane plant: how delightful! Realizing how unrealistic–and unappetizing– this image is, the Ministry solves the problem by simply making the industries bordering the canal vanish.
7) Questionable cost estimates
Despite having worked on this project for years, the Quebec transport ministry seems to have great difficulty determining the cost of its project. Throughout the last year, its estimates swung between $1.5 billion one day, $2.6 billion the next, $2.1 billion after that, and finally the $3 billion announced today. However, this apparent difficulty in establishing the cost of its plan did not prevent the Ministry from appraising, overnight, the city’s April proposal at $6 billion – a ridiculous figure that has nevertheless made an indelible and unfortunate impression on the minds of Montrealers.
The transport ministry plan will require the expropriation of 106 residences in four buildings: 100 at 780 St. Rémy, and two each in three other buildings. Hard to believe that in this day and age, we are still tearing down houses to make way for highways! Transport Minister Sam Hamad and Mayor Gérald Tremblay are clearly not considering the gravity of their mistake in trying to evict the residents of 780 St. Rémy.
9) Again with the (road) berms
The latest draft of the Turcot project still includes berms at least 20 feet high, which will shut the populations of Côte-Saint-Paul and Saint-Henri from the rest of the city. While the city’s proposal would invigorate and reconnect the neighbourhoods surrounding the interchange, the province’s raised roadways will perpetuate the urban fragmentation created by the original Turcot Interchange.
10) An attractive entry to the city? Maybe some other time…
In line with the city’s April proposal, the Transport Ministry intends to create an attractive entrance to the city. However, the current draft of the plan – as well as the continued presence of the giant billboards lining the highway – means there’s little chance this welcoming entry will come to pass.
To this day, only the Plateau Mt-Royal administration, run by Projet Montréal, has dared take on this indescribable visual pollution.