‘The Biggest Failure’

The MTQ’s New Turcot Plan Divides City Hall

The new Trucot will accomodate over 290.000 cars daily and expropriate 100 housing units Photo Justing Giovannetti

Although it hasn’t been officially unveiled yet, the Ministère du Transport de Québec’s plan to overhaul Montreal’s decaying Turcot interchange has already shaken up city hall.

Today, Quebec’s Transportation Minister Sam Hammad will announce the province’s $3 billion proposal for the Turcot—a proposal that has already caused Projet Montréal leader Richard Bergeron to resign from the city’s executive committee and which has been denounced by both of city hall’s main opposition parties.

Representatives from the MTQ have refused to comment on any details about the Turcot, but Bergeron—who got a peek at the plans on Friday—said the new project is almost identical to the one the MTQ presented Quebecers with in 2007.

“The MTQ hasn’t learned to deal with a big city like Montreal,” said Bergeron, who resigned as the city’s head of urban planning after refusing to back the new Turcot plan. “I had drawn a line in the sand [about the Turcot plans] and that line was the product of compromise between my vision of the project and [the MTQ’s]. They went far beyond that line.”

In 2003, a Transport Quebec commissioned study found that the Turcot interchange was crumbling. Large chunks of concrete had been falling from the massive 47-year-old structure. The interchange links three major Montreal highways and accommodates 290,000 vehicles daily.

The report’s findings have been at the center of a debate on how to rebuild the Turcot. In 2007, the MTQ announced plans to expand the interchange’s size and capacity for traffic with a price tag of about $500 million.

Community groups in Montreal’s South West borough, where the Turcot’s reconstruction would expropriate over 100 housing units and displace approximately 400 people, staged protests in 2009 and worked with urban planners and architects to devise an alternative plan.

In March, the Citizens’ Committee of the Village des Tanneries, along with Concordia University urban planning professor Pierre Gauthier, introduced Turcot 375 to Montreal. Turcot 375 is a proposal that would take 110,000 vehicles off the road daily and link the city’s downtown core to the West Island via light rail and bus-only lanes.

“Turcot 375 addresses the future of commuting,” said Gauthier. “The price of a barrel of oil is only going to rise, driving to work is becoming an outdated concept. Why would we expand the Turcot’s size and it’s capacity for pollution when we can address the reality of where transit is going?”

Unlike the MTQ’s proposal, Turcot 375 has earned the support of Quebec’s Order of Engineers, Montreal’s Public Health Department and Quebec’s Environmental Assessment Board.

The city of Montreal also presented the MTQ with a scaled down Turcot plan, but both projects were dismissed as being too expensive.

On Friday, Bergeron accused the mayor of having backed down from April’s plan to “rejoin his true political family in Quebec City.”

“It’s not perfect,” said city hall spokesperson Darren Becker of the new MTQ proposal. “But this is politics and you can’t always get what you want. Bergeron is showing a lack of political maturity on this file.”

The MTQ’s revised Turcot plan is expected to include bus lanes, but any additional details will have to wait until Hammad makes his announcement later today.

“They can make little modifications to the project,” said Bergeron. “But at its core the project is wrong […] The Turcot interchange was the biggest failure in my time on the executive committee.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 13, published November 9, 2010.