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?

3 thoughts on “A few things every Montrealer should know about our city.”

  1. Another factor leading to the failure of Mirabel was that Montreal was a major hub for transatlantic travel. Planes crossing the Atlantic would stop in Montreal before continuing South/West throughout North America. After Mirabel was built, planes with increased travel radii starting appearing on the market, and Montreal was no longer a necessary stop between Europe/North America.

    Distance really isn’t so much of a factor, but as you said, the government really dropped the ball on the 50 and train line. Many cities have their airports placed outside of the metropolitan area, but without a quick and efficient way to get between Montreal and the airport, the project was doomed.

    As for the Champlain bridge…Not much can be done to fix it for a reasonable cost. Unlike Montreal’s other south shore spans, this bridge has a lot of concrete on it. Inside of this concrete is rusted re-bar that can’t hold on for much longer. Fixing this bridge requires removing all that concrete, building forms, and re-pouring. Sure, you could argue that steel could be used in the place of reinforced concrete, but this would require a near total redesign of the bridge. The costs would probably be higher than simply building a whole new bridge.

    As for the cost of replacing this bridge vs. the original cost (with inflation)… The new bridge would likely differ in design from the original (more steel, less concrete). This would insure that the new bridge lasts more than 50 years. The costs of building this bridge are significantly higher than the original design’s cost. 50 years ago we didn’t have all the union issues that we’re having right now. The cost of skilled labourers is much higher than it was at the time of the Champlain’s construction. Then there’s all the safety costs. 50 years ago, workers weren’t working the way they do now. CSST does a lot to protect our tradespeople, but it comes at a cost. This is for the better, but safe work takes much longer than dangerous work. We also need to consider that Montreal wasn’t nearly as populated as it is now. The space used to build the Bonaventure expressway and anything else connected to the bridge was for the most part free for the taking. Now that we’ve got factories, houses, and active highways in these places, the costs of building in this area will have to go up. With the current state of traffic in our city, the MTQ will have to spend a lot of money insuring that things don’t get worse while building the new bridge. This adds time and cost. Add these costs to the corruption factors and anything else I’ve left out, and you’ve got yourself a 5 billion dollar bridge.

    I’m still not convinced that the Champlain is in worse shape than the Mercier though. Just take a look at the kind of closures we’ve been having in the last year. This isn’t normal wear and tear. It’s quite often that potholes open up (almost instantly) on this bridge. There are many documented cases of cars falling into these holes! On at least one case, the driver was able to see the water below! I’ve performed some inspections on this bridge (not related to the structure/integrity of the bridge), and noticed that there were holes in the sidewalk. At some spots, old billboards were being used to cover large holes. It was one of the most terrifying nights of my life. I’m not sure how cyclists/pedestrians cross this bridge everyday. They’ve got serious balls to do so.

  2. Mr. Faguy –

    Thanks for leaving a comment, I’m curious as to what happened to your points no. 1 & 3?

    You’re right w/r/t the Green Line being placed under (and subsequently creating) Boul. de Maisonneuve. But consider this; the Place du Centre project and the rehabilitation of McGill College wouldn’t have happened without the Green Line, as most of the properties were built with Metro access in mind. The same is true of Réso development on North-South axes, such as the PdesA-Place-d’Armes axis.

    Ultimately, the point remains that Métro stations can be used effectively to stimulate outward growth, densification and raise land value. I’d advocate that the method be used as much as possible and as often as possible to help depreciate the costs associated with new tunnel construction.

    I don’t see why the Champlain needs to be completely replaced. As I mentioned in the article, the Fed is looking to pony up $5 billion to replace the bridge and the MTQ estimates a cost of $4 billion to build 12 new stations on 20 km of new track. That would allow a major improvement to our public transit system and further allow one billion to fix the bridge. Current estimates to maintain the bridge fro 10 years is pegged at $25 million. I don’t think you need to be a CA to see graft of epic proportions.

    Ultimately, the issue w/r/t to Mirabel boils down to this: it wasn’t connected properly to the two major urban centres it was designed to serve (Montreal and Ottawa), and improvements in technology would have made the rail connection a viable option had they stuck to it. Mirabel to Central Station can be done in less than thirty minutes, but it would require a substantial up-front investment. Either way, we can’t escape the fact that Trudeau will never meet the 50 million passengers per year mark, largely because residents around the airport don’t want 24hr operations and it can’t be expanded more than it has been. It is a has-been airport, it has served us well, but we need to move back to Mirabel, finish the highways (all three), and get a high-speed rail connection operating. Whatever the cost up front, it would pale in comparison to the kind of revenue such a massive airport could bring in.

  3. 2. Metro stations in the original network are built not so much under properties as they are under roads. The green line downtown is beneath De Maisonneuve Blvd. (in fact, de Maisonneuve was created by the building of the metro). The eastern side of the orange line is beneath Berri St.

    And while the original plan was to have buildings built above station entrances, it was not universally successful. Saint-Laurent is still looking for a building to be built on top of it 45 years later. Mont-Royal was also supposed to be a temporary entrance as they waited for someone to build on top of it.

    The stations in Laval, which are the only ones built since 1988, couldn’t really use this method because Cartier and Montmorency are surrounded by huge parking lots and bus terminals, and de la Concorde is next to a train line and has limited ground space.

    4. The Champlain bridge was indeed built not as well as the Jacques Cartier or Victoria bridges. The design of the Champlain was experimental (which means “innovative” if it works, “stupid” if it doesn’t). Among the problems was that it couldn’t properly deal with road salt, which degraded the structure over its lifetime.

    5. Mirabel’s failure has nothing to do with the design of the airport. It’s because it’s too far compared to Dorval. Airlines and travellers wanted to use Dorval, and even with high-speed trains or the completed Highway 13 it would have taken much longer to get to Mirabel from downtown.

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