A few things every Montrealer should know about our city.

Consider this:

1. It took only five years to build the first twenty-six Métro stations, which included most of the Green and Orange lines and all of the Yellow Line. 5,000 men and women worked on the project which cost $213,7 million (about $1,5 billion adjusted for inflation) and delivered the project on budget and ahead of schedule. The Métro was steadily increased between 1976 and 1988 at which point a provincial moratorium prevented new construction until the Orange Line extension into Laval was completed in 2007. That three-station extension cost $745 million and took five years, with only 700 people employed. I think we screwed up somewhere along the way, as we’re certainly not getting our money’s worth anymore.

2. The Métro was primarily paid for via the following system: the city acquired properties along planned tunnel routes where stations would be placed. After demolishing whatever was above ground they dug out the pit and built the station, and then auctioned off the rights to build on top of the station. This is a fail-safe solution to finding immediate capital investment for Métro extension that properly utilizes free market capitalism to the benefit of a community – property developers want Métro access directly into their buildings. And make no mistake – the City owns the land around stand-alone station exits, and it’s only a matter of time before the private sector comes along to make an offer. Why aren’t we using this method today?

3. During the Oka Crisis in 1990 the Mercier Bridge and three key highways on the South Shore were blockaded by the Kahnawake Mohawk Nation in solidarity with the Mohawk of Kanesatake. Some enraged residents of Chateauguay began construction of an unplanned four-lane highway around the Kahnawake Reserve – it was later integrated into the A30 highway project. How is it that we are so helpless so as to rely almost entirely on either the provincial or federal governments during times of peace, but during times of conflict we suddenly realize we can come together and do pretty much whatever we feel? People voluntarily collaborated to start building a highway.

4. Speaking of bridges, how is it that the new Champlain Bridge is estimated to cost$5 billion and take ten years to build when the original Champlain Bridge cost $265 million (adjusted for inflation in 2011 dollars) and only took four years to complete? And how is it that the Victoria Bridge, Jacques-Cartier Bridge and Mercier Bridge are all significantly older than the fifty year old Champlain Bridge and yet are in better shape? Did we design this bridge to fail or are we really grossly over-estimating wear and tear? And did you know that all of our current bridges or tunnels were completed on-time (under five years in each case) and under budget?

5. Speaking of highways – did you know that Mirabel International Airport failed largely because the Fed and provincial government couldn’t agree on how to finance the construction of one highway and one rail line? Moreover, both Dorval and Mirabel airports have fully functioning train stations built under the main terminals, and they’ve both only ever been used for parking? Furthermore – most of the rail line needed to link Mirabel airport with the city is currently in use – the Blainville and Deux-Montagnes lines were supposed to create a loop, with a stop at the airport.

6. We built Mirabel after experience with Dorval during Expo, when we realized it was far from ideal to handle the likely yearly passenger load of an expanding metropolis. Ergo, Mirabel was built and designed to be gradually expanded until it had a fifty million passengers per year capacity. This is roughly the number of people who came to Montréal during the six months that Expo was open. But of course you can’t increase passenger load, nor the number of tourists, nor the city’s chances of hosting major international events, if you don’t have an airport to serve them. Mirabel was operational for only twenty years, how on Earth did we expect it to turn a profit after so little time in use?

That’s all for now, but please keep these issues in mind. We need to get serious about our city, and we need to know that, once upon a time, we easily turned our dreams into reality.

So I ask you, why can’t we do this today?