A debate whose issues affect all of Québec and could easily drag on for lack of real leadership. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.
An unproductive confrontation
Two very different views are clashing. The MTQ proposed a project based on traffic flow and easy execution. The City of Montreal counterattacked with an attractive, yet not very plausible project.
But it is the citizens and the economy of Montreal that may end up paying the price for this unproductive confrontation.
A wider view
We are now in the era of sustainable development. In other words, a project like the Turcot Complex project should be reviewed according to economic, social and environmental parameters.
Even a strategic interchange cannot be designed based on highway efficiency alone, especially when it is located right in the middle of the city. Everyone one of us, and engineers above all, should be aware of this.
The Québec government is relying heavily on mass transit to achieve its 20% GHG reduction target by 2020. In Greater Montreal, all related initiatives have been successful and surpassed expectations, and many other investments are planned.
So it is reasonable to rely on mass transit to reduce the use of automobiles in the east-west axis, relieve traffic congestion downtown and reduce GHG emissions due in large part to road transportation.
But is it really that necessary to reduce the capacity of the interchange in this axis? Not until the effectiveness of the alternatives has been reviewed. Keep in mind that $1.4 billion in economic losses were linked to traffic jams in Greater Montreal in 2003 .
Improving traffic flow is a legitimate objective, especially since it would be possible to restrict automobile access in other ways.
Montreal wants to limit the ground covered by the interchange so that it can recover and develop land with huge development potential. In the future, this land could generate much higher investments than the direct cost that they incur.
Montreal is also concerned about the effect of the substantial use of enormous shoulders on the adjacent neighbourhoods. These concerns are very legitimate and must also be taken into account in the design of a new structure, even though they increase its direct cost.
The issues raised by the reconstruction of the Turcot Complex are a lot greater than the problems of the highway interchange. These issues require a global view, a view of sustainable development that affects how transportation is organized and the socio-economic development of Greater Montreal.
The highest authorities of the Québec government must intervene so that these issues can be reconciled because not only Québec's metropolis, but half of its population are at stake!
Québec's leadership is more than ever important because time is running out. The current structure is severely degraded and being kept alive artificially.
We have no doubts that the MTQ is taking its responsibility to ensure user safety very seriously and will not hesitate to close sections of the structure in questionable circumstances.
But for how long can we keep this highly strategic structure at full capacity?
We urge the government, the City of Montreal and the groups taking part in the current debate to be fully aware of this reality: the days of the existing structure are numbered. A solution has to be found rapidly and reconstruction work must be begun as soon as possible.
To do so, a project must soon be agreed upon that will rally the greatest number of partners possible. The project has to be full of future promise. After all, that is also what sustainable development is.