A few things every Montrealer ought to know about Mirabel International Airport

So I’ve been having a lot of discussions about Mirabel over the last few weeks, thought I’d share some ideas.

1. We still need it. Montréal is a major international tourism destination in addition to being a key port of entry for immigrants and refugees. Our city is growing as is interest in our city, this is undeniable. As we stimulate our development and continue on our path to becoming a truly global city, we will require an airport that can handle a steadily increasing number of passengers. Such an airport will grow, by necessity, to serve a steadily increasing population base and will stimulate industrial development around it. It is for these reasons primarily that Montréal must shift its focus away from Trudeau and back towards Mirabel. Trudeau is at capacity, Mirabel is only one-sixth of its planned size. What else is there to do? Moreover, it would be advantageous to re-purpose Trudeau to handle cargo flights and aircraft manufacturing and maintenance, given the existing concentration of industry and infrastructure adjacent to the airport. Mirabel, by contrast, is located in a rural area with plenty of room to grow. Built away from the city, Mirabel can operate twenty-four hours a day and a purpose-built infrastructure can be implemented so as to make access to the airport efficient and effective across the metropolitan region. Similar infrastructure redevelopment in Dorval is proving exceptionally difficult to implement.

2. The lack of access that led to Mirabel’s demise is either currently being implemented, in use, or otherwise still on the drawing board. Highway 50 from the National Capital Region (population 1.4 million) is about to be completed, I believe, as far as the intersection with Highway 15. The AMT runs trains between Montréal and Mirabel, on a track which can access the Deux-Montagnes Line (and by extension Gare Centrale), in addition to the Parc Intermodal Station. The train station at the airport has already been completed. We’re closer to realizing high-speed rail access to the airport than we realize – the problem is that we’re focusing on the wrong airport. Completing Highway 50 so that it connects with Highway 40 near Repentigny will allow a Northern bypass to mirror the now completed Highway 30 Southern bypass. And what better way to justify the construction of a new South Shore span than by simultaneously completing Highways 13 and 19? This way, the Montréal metropolitan region would be served by four East-West Highways intersected by a similar number of North-South Highways. A ring-road would be created, and Mirabel would finally be able to adequately serve the metro region, providing the catalyst and focal point for new highway development. And that’s just the highways. While the Fed claims high-speed rail is an expensive dream, there’s no denying the very real demand within our own metropolitan region – so let us lead the development by starting on a smaller scale. A bullet train running between the Downtown of Montréal and Mirabel will lead to the creation of a high-speed rail link between Mirabel and Ottawa. Then it will be expanded from Mirabel to Québec City. A train travelling at 120km/hour could run the distance between Ottawa and Mirabel in about an hour. At a slightly higher speed the trip from Mirabel to Downtown Montréal could be made in as little as fifteen minutes. All of this would improve transit and transport throughout the region, and expand our airport market to a considerably larger population, perhaps more than five million people across three borders. Let’s pay for it now so that we may profit from it tomorrow.

3. Low jet-fuel prices and longer-range aircraft made stopping at Mirabel unnecessary in the 1980s and 1990s and gave rise to Pearson Int’l Airport in Toronto as chief Canadian gateway due to the rise of Toronto’s economic prominence and rapid population growth. Today, fuel prices are high and unstable; though aircraft have grown in size considerably, so Mirabel may once again be in position to wrestle away the title of Eastern Gateway from Toronto. This is the kind of economic competition our State requires, and perhaps Toronto may be better off re-focusing it’s efforts on trans-hemispheric travel. Who knows? I’d just like to see what would happen if we pushed ahead with Mirabel to take business away from Pearson. It’s what capitalism is all about right? Better public transit access to strategically situated airports able to adapt to new technologies will define the gateways of tomorrow, and for this reason Mirabel is superior to Pearson in many respects. Let’s see what the free market has to say about it. Again, Pearson, though large, is nearing capacity and constrained from large-scale growth by what has already grown up beside it. And we can’t grow unless we have the infrastructure to allow for growth. So whereas the citizens of Toronto may one day have to plan an entirely new airport even further away from the city centre, all we have to do re-connect our airport to our metropolitan ‘circulatory system’. The advantage will soon be ours.

4. Mirabel wasn’t designed to fail – we let it fail. Fixing it is still a possibility, but we need to act quickly so we can save what’s already been built. We don’t want to have to start from scratch at some point in the future because we lacked foresight today – that’s criminally negligent economic policy. We spent a lot of money in the past and haven’t seen a decent return on our investment. So, invest anew – but invest in fixing the problem, once and for all. Whatever the initial cost, it cannot compare to the potential return a fully operational Mirabel would provide in terms of direct revenue and indirect economic stimulus. There are no mistakes, just innovative solutions. If we were really smart, we’d recognize that planned regional transit and transport projects can be brought together under a larger plan to provide the access necessary to make Mirabel a viable solution to our airport problem. Ultimately, it’s all inter-related and could stimulate key sectors of our local economy.

We were once a daring and imaginative people, we had bold ideas and planned on a grand scale. Somewhere along the way we became convinced we were no longer capable of performing at the same level, and settled into a holding pattern of society-wide malaise. Today we are restless, and we are daring to ask how we came to be, and where our former power came from. Of late, it seems that we’ve regained our swagger, our attitude. So let us push those in power to dream big once more, and push for the long-term, multi-generational city-building we were once so good at. We have it in our blood, but our pride is still damaged. Let us regain our spirit by turning our past failures into tomorrow’s successes.