Russian Roulette on the Road

Picture this: you’re plodding along in the shuttle bus, inching your way through our city’s notoriously bad traffic, on your way to your class at Loyola, and you’re stuck under an overpass. Suddenly, you hear a large cracking sound, and a massive chunk of concrete falls from an aging roadway structure onto the bus, killing you instantly.

Well, that sucks.

This scenario might sound like a bad joke, but it’s happened before, and judging by the amount of progress that has been made since then, it very well might happen again.

It was nothing short of a miracle that no one was killed when a portion of the Ville-Marie collapsed earlier this summer, but what are the odds we’ll get that lucky next time around?

The problems with our transport infrastructure are getting out of control. The Mercier Bridge, the Ville-Marie tunnel and the Turcot Interchange are all structures built for a boom that Montreal never saw happen, and are now reaching the end of their lifespan.

Concordia is a commuter school, born from the fusion of two universities with two separate campuses. Transportation is not incidental to this university—it is an essential for anybody who doesn’t limit themselves to one campus.

If you are reading this on the shuttle, a bus, or a train, look out the window. What surrounds you is a wobbly mess of old, cracking concrete that could collapse at any moment, just like the Souvenir and de la Concorde overpasses in Laval did—while claiming the lives of one person in 2000 and five in 2006, respectively.

In 2008, a meter-wide hole was found in the Turcot, a spot that our shuttle bus passes over constantly.

Although plans are underway to renovate the aging interchange, with traffic regularly backing up due to bridge closings, a Concordia student could be forgiven for feeling like an unwilling participant in a Russian roulette game every time they get stuck in traffic on the Turcot between classes. The inevitable deluge of snow in the winter is only going to compound the problem.

There is too much wrong with the mentality of Quebec government with regards to road development for us not to mobilize. A myopic focus on keeping costs low and a lack of third-party oversight have resulted in a system where companies who win infrastructure contracts are also the people performing inspections, and often using sub-par materials.

The conflict of interest here should be apparent to anyone. Well, unless you happen to be in government. Then you call it business as usual.

As a result, maintenance on these structures needs to be done more often in order to be effectively preventative, but it’s too costly and recurrent for politicians who only show their concern with roads and transportation when election-time approaches. And it doesn’t help that finding the ones accountable is a task both herculean and Sisyphean. The shared responsibility for the maintenance of the roads makes it so that parties often push the blame around and nothing gets done.

Of course, complaining about the issue will do nothing. And we’re not going to tell you to write to your MNA and demand a change. If concrete raining down on one of the busiest sections of highway hasn’t clued them in to the problem, angrily worded messages that will never gets past their secretaries are not going to change their minds.

If you’re sick of wondering who will contact your next of kin every time you go from SGW to Loyola and back, it’s time to get creative. Students are notoriously good at creative protesting. Lie down in a pothole. Fill it with jellybeans. Duct tape yourself to the closest overpass. But whatever you do, do something.

This article originally appeared in Volume 32, Issue 03, published September 13, 2011.