New Turcot headaches – work at 56% complete
New Turcot headaches – With the announcement of work on the new Turcot interchange now 56% complete, also came a confirmation that the new configuration will not be able to handle any more traffic than the previous tangled mess. In fact, according to Quebec Transport Minister Andre Fortin, it will have the same number of lanes on its ramps – maybe even fewer.
“In terms of widening highways, we can’t just look at highways to fix our mobility issues. We need to look at urban transit, active transportation,” said the Minister in a CTV news report.
Last Monday November 20th, Mayor Valérie Plante was on hand for a ceremony marking the new section of Hwy 20, part of the Turcot reconfiguration. She was pleased at the progress, but no mention was made about the volume of traffic the Turcot will (or will not) be able to accommodate when it is completed in 2020. Nonetheless, there is not much for her to say, as construction of the new interchange is under provincial jurisdiction and well underway, making it highly unlikely for any changes to take place.
But Mayor Plante did bring up the subject of ‘Dalle Park’ again, a pedestrian/bicycle/greenspace’ overpass linking NDG to LaSalle. It was in the original Turcot plans but somehow quietly disappeared until several environmental groups and cycling activists took notice and cried out.
Plante, an avid cyclist herself, had discussed reviving the project with Minister Fortin, who said he was open to discussing it further. He was not able to say why it was left out, but they agreed to a ‘consultation process’ with advocates of the original project. The area where it was supposed to be built is still available but even if the project gets the go ahead, Fortin said it would probably not be constructed until after the Turcot is finished – yet Plante is still determined to make it happen and believes it can be done in conjunction with the project’s completion.
The interchange was built in 1967 and originally designed for Expo 67, in order for visitors to have better access into the city with links to rail transportation and airports. It was first constructed to support a capacity of only 20,000 to 30,000 vehicles daily – but has far exceeded its design. The materials used to build it were inferior and clearly not capable of handling the more than 300,000 vehicles now using it every day, from both the north-south and the east-west directions.
Its reconstruction actually began in 2009 when sections of it were in need of urgent, although temporary, repairs – with several instances of concrete and other material falling dangerously on to the roads below. First scheduled to be completed by 2018, at an estimated cost of almost $3 billion dollars, the amount has already risen to well over $3.5 billion and climbing. Delays and cost overruns have become part of the landscape, as just about every big project put forth in this province has.
To be fair, challenges are reasonably expected for a project such magnitude, especially one that includes the rebuilding of four major interchanges and sections of three highways, moving sections of highway and railway, adding dedicated lanes for public transit and building new links to the road network it will service – and that is just part of what needs to be done. Add in bad weather conditions where work has to be stopped, strikes or slowdowns and unforeseen technical problems, it would not be surprising if the completion of the Turcot will go past the projected 2020 date. Should that happen, commuters may very well go past their ‘best before date’ and the capacity to remain tolerant while trying to navigate the city’s infrastructure nightmare.
It is why one might stop and ask how the project was ever conceived without ensuring it would be able to handle more vehicles. Until public transit lives up to the hopes, dreams and ensuing political promises, the volume on the roads will only continue to rise.
Once completed, the new Turcot might appear impressive in design and offer a safe and solid infrastructure (prompting loud sighs of relief) but in the end, if it doesn’t help relieve traffic congestion, the anxiety and mental health of commuters might be exacerbated.
Bonnie Wurst – mtltimes.ca