Québec to foot $76 million cost of Vendome Station upgrade

Bird's eye perspective on the new entrance

Big news for NDG and the owners of that big empty lot on the corner of Claremont and Boul. de Maisonneuve.

It looks like the province is pushing ahead with a plan to build a second entrance to Vendome Métro station for a cool $76.5 million by 2019.

The province’s plan is to connect the station platforms to an new entrance to be located on the ground floor of the small office building immediately east of the station, where the MUHC maintains some of its offices. The full scope of the plan involves construction of a new tunnel to link the hospital and train station with the Métro station, and to build a ‘universally accessible’ entrance at the eastern end of the Métro station’s platform.

From the looks of things, I think this will result in a unique Métro station design in terms of the placement of exits from platform level: most if not all other stations that have more than one exit from platform level have the exits located at either end of the platform. The new Vendome will have an exit at the far eastern end and the other (extant exit) located about a quarter the overall platform length from the west end of the platform.

I’m not mentioning this because there’s any particular problem with it… the point is that, as far as I remember, all Montreal Métro stations are supposed to be laid out in such a fashion that they’re all distinct in terms of their layouts and ‘feel’ so as to facilitate travel for citizens with visual impairments. I hope this overarching design concept is retained for Vendome’s redesign.

According to transport minister Robert Poeti, the intention is to make the station ‘universally accessible’, though in the press release there was no specific mention of building elevators to ferry passengers with reduced mobility between the platform level and ground level. The press release also states that the Quebec government is ‘proud’ to finance the whole thing.

No kidding… pride? What an odd emotion to state in relation to an infrastructure project…

In other contexts it sounds just as weird… “I’m proud to announce the province will pay the full cost of building this lunatic asylum” or “I’m proud to say we’ll be financing the total cost of wastewater treatment” or “I am proud to spend your money fixing problems our lack of foresight caused in the first place…”

In any event, I digress.

Installing elevators for the specific purpose of making all stations accessible to those with reduced mobility is one of the STM’s long-term goals, though it’s been *ahem* handicapped by a wide variety of complicating factors not uniquely limited to the difficulties of punching holes into walls and floors… in at least one case I can think of a private property that serves as a primary entrance to another Métro station has retarded the effort to make a station universally accessible by delaying the construction of elevators inside its foyer.

Without more specific details I can imagine one of three scenarios for Vendome station. Either elevators will allow access from the new east exit, or the tunnel connecting to the Glen Yards Super(duper)hospital will connect directly to the platform, or some combination of both options.

Connecting directly to the platform is the best option for anyone with mobility problems, not to mention the best way to contend with the anticipated increase in the station’s use if the increase is driven by those seeking to access the hospital.

The transport ministry, in their consultation with the AMT, STM and MUHC, believes that the number of users will increase from 9 million to 18 million annually between now and 2021.

However, if the increase in ridership at Vendome station is not driven principally by hospital access, and instead is a reflection of traffic congestion in the West End more generally speaking, building a second entrance will only help with entrance and egress, not accessibility. And not by much either: the bus depot will still be located around the western entrance, and the over-crowding problem at Vendome could only be solved by running more M̩tro trains and buses. If the increase in station usage is being driven by people needing access to the M̩tro system (and not the hospital), then a second entrance would make a lot of sense Рif it was located to the west where the bus depot and train station access points already exist.

The green space across the parking lot is supposed to become a grocery store/ seniors' residence. It's accessibility will be greatly improved with the new Métro entrance...
The green space across the parking lot is supposed to become a grocery store/ seniors’ residence. It’s accessibility will be greatly improved with the new Métro entrance…

The project is currently estimated to cost $76.5 million, and this cost will be paid by the provincial transport ministry. The project will be managed by the STM; construction will begin in 2017 and is expected to be completed by the summer of 2019.

You may be wondering, isn’t there already a tunnel connecting the Métro to the MUHC?

Answer: sorta.

A $5 million ‘temporary’ tunnel was completed in June of 2015 that extended an existing tunnel (that links the Vendome Métro station mezzanine with the Vendome commuter train station) towards the MUHC. Underground it connects to the MUHC’s parking garage, though it’s only an emergency exit out of the garage and into the tunnel. For those wishing to access the hospital, they need to climb a staircase (or take an elevator) and exit a kiosk located roughly 100 meters from the hospital’s front entrance.

For reasons that remain unexplained, though connecting the hospital to the Vendome intermodal station was always part of the theoretical plan, making the station a) universally accessible and b) connect directly to the hospital, never materialized as one might expect.

I should reiterate: the extant ‘temporary’ tunnel does indeed connect directly to the hospital’s underground parking garage and this garage in turn is universally accessible (i.e. served by multiple elevators). The MUHC’s CEO, Normand Rinfret, was quoted by CBC Montreal back in June of 2015 as saying, with reference to this off-limits connection:

“It’s not a door that is conceived as a wall and everything related to massive transportation means for people to get access.”


My guess is that either the people running the MUHC don’t want to pay for some additional security measures that would be required to make use of this existing access point, or they don’t like the notion of people walking through a parking garage to get into the hospital.

Proposed tunnel to connect MUHC with MUHC office space
Proposed tunnel to connect MUHC with MUHC office space

Whatever the reason, there’s no good one as far as I’m concerned. The simplest and least expensive solution to connect the hospital with the intermodal station is to use the tunnel that’s already built.

Furthermore, are we not supposed to be in a period of government austerity? Spending more than 15 times the cost of the existing tunnel on this project is a colossal expense of dubious benefit.

So let me tell you about Québec’s national sport.

The objective is very straightforward; all you need to do to win is to ‘invest’ as much public money while in government as you possibly can, and extra points are earned if a) cost projections are wildly inaccurate, b) the end product looks nothing like what was originally proposed, c) a Quebec-based company with a history of fraudulent business practices and/or poor corporate governance is somehow involved and d) if the shortcomings of an earlier government’s project can somehow be rolled into an entirely new and separate project that keeps the process repeating ad infinitum.

This is not a province that has spending under control. There is no economic conservatism in Quebec in the traditional sense, and the neoliberalism adopted by the Quebec Liberals as a de facto economic policy has only served to decease the overall value of the province’s exceptionally high rates of taxation.

We elect governments that promise to invest public money to stimulate the Quebec economy, but all too often it seems that we’re spending money for the purposes of spending money, and perhaps worse we elect governments (consistently) that take public tax wealth to redistribute to private interests that have become dependent on corporate welfare to survive (see Bombardier Aerospace). Taxation in our case is the economic foundation of our own elites. It funds our local aristocracy.

I have no issue with making Métro stations accessible, but let’s be real – this has more to do with spending money on ‘legacy projects’ than finding simple solutions to accessibility problems. As I said before, a tunnel already exists. Someone at the MUHC took a dump on the notion of having people access the hospital through the parking garage and so the powers at be have conspired to build something new and expensive rather than simply tell the MUHC to deal with it and use the tunnel they have.

And it would have gone that way had it not been for the fact that the MUHC is being run by a for-profit organization whose sole responsibility is to milk as much money from the public purse as it possibly can.

Somehow that’s supposed to be good for taxpayers.

Children’s Hospital Field at Cabot Square®

Ceci n'est pas une stade de baseball...
Ceci n’est pas une stade de baseball…

Urban development news of the day: the former Montreal Children’s Hospital building at Cabot Square has been sold to real estate developer Luc Poirier for an undisclosed sum. The MUHC’s asking price, as reported a few months back, was about $45 million, though neither Poirier or the MUHC would confirm the value of the transaction (which is odd given that we’re talking about a public building and everyone’s talking a good game these days about transparency… but I digress).

Luc Poirier also won’t specify exactly what he has in mind for the site, though he hinted strongly at a baseball stadium. Apparently he has an important meeting this week with someone of significance vis-a-vis the much bandied about plan to return professional baseball to the city.

Now before we get ahead of ourselves, nothing is set in stone. The deal won’t be official for another three months, at which time the public will be told how much the hospital sold for. Poirier has no specific plan for the site. Inasmuch as he indicated he believes it’s an ideal site for a downtown ballpark, he remains open to myriad other potential uses. He offered condos, offices or a seniors residence as possibilities. That being said, his plan involves demolishing the six buildings that comprise the hospital complex, as he believes the buildings are insufficient as is for housing.

As to a professional baseball stadium, Poirier was very candid in stating a new ballpark would require not only demolishing the hospital buildings, but further would require expropriating at least some of the streets and public spaces (i.e. the newly renovated Cabot Square and Place Hector-Toe-Blake and Place Henri-Dunant) that surround the hospital complex.

Ergo, not only does the public lose institutional space in the form of a hospital, but further loses three parks. Cabot Square just received a $6.3 million renovation, paid for by the city. If Poirier’s plan for a baseball stadium gets the green light, it would not only waste that sum but further require extensive city involvement, consuming public tax dollars for a private interest.

Assume the new ballpark would occupy the grounds of the former Children’s Hospital, the three aforementioned parks and public spaces, as well as Sussex, Hope, Tupper and Lambert Closse streets. The city would have to plan for the loss of those side streets, not to mention re-locate the bus terminus co-located at Cabot Square. If you thought there wasn’t enough parking in downtown Montreal to begin with, imagine the loss of those parking on those streets compounding additional parking requirements on game days.

Even if Poirier plans for an extensive excavation of the land to build a massive underground parking garage to compensate for parking demands, building a ballpark on this site will still require additional roadwork on Atwater, Sainte-Catherine and René-Lévesque to accommodate higher traffic loads. I can’t imagine how the city could this and also somehow make Sainte-Catherine more pedestrian friendly simultaneously.

A major advantage of course would be that this location would provide immediate access to Atwater Métro station, which would in all likelihood help mitigate traffic congestion (though by no means would it eliminate it). Atwater is an ideal Métro station because it was designed from the outset as a high-capacity inter-modal transit station (Bus/Métro) adjacent to a major sporting and performance venue (the Forum). But we could count on congestion there too. If the exhibition games at the Olympic Stadium over the past two years were any indication, the Green Line would slow down considerably on game days (though this would be mitigated at least in part with people opting to disembark either at Lionel-Groulx or Guy-Concordia). All told, it’s not a bad location strictly in terms in terms of access to public transit infrastructure.

But the project’s various public costs can’t be overlooked simply because the stadium will be Métro station adjacent.

My major concern is the immediate effect a stadium will have on residential and retail rents in the Shaughnessy Village area. My fear is that commercial rents will rise very quickly, forcing out small businesses and replacing them with theme restaurants, high-capacity sports bars (à la Sergakis) and tacky souvenir stands. Residential rents will also rise, eventually leading property owners to convert their properties into condominium towers, which in turn would likely force out many residents.


The latest word is that the city is not keen on Mr. Poirier’s plan.

Richard Bergeron, formerly the leader of Projet Montréal and now Coderre’s right-hand man on all aspects of downtown redevelopment, said he’s not in favour and that the city is not ready to sacrifice public spaces and streets for a ballpark.

Bergeron also noted that the Children’s Hospital site, though promoted by Ernst & Young in their feasibility study, is not the first choice for the Montreal Baseball Project, which in turn prefers the Peel Basin.

Bergeron also stated that yet another site had been pitched to City Hall – that of Maison Radio-Canada’s extensive parking lot. Bergeron suggested the western lot, which runs between René Lévesque Boulevard and the Ville Marie Expressway along Wolfe. The eastern lot is much larger, but might not be as feasible simply as a result of congestion on Papineau (police operate the traffic lights manually on much of Papineau throughout the day).

All that being said, this proposal makes much more sense to me. For one, no expropriations of public space nor demolitions of any heritage structures; the lots currently constitute empty space. A ballpark at this location would still require excavations and a significant underground parking facility, but wouldn’t ‘spill over’ into the surrounding streets such as it would over at the Children’s. Even though this would also be a small-sized ballpark, there could be some integration with Maison Radio-Canada, such as incorporating seating atop the complex’s westernmost studios, if extra space is required.

Other benefits of this location: adjacent to established entertainment districts (i.e. Gay Village, Old Montreal) though not immediately next door. Four Métro stations within a five minute walk, including the Berri-UQAM, not to mention highway and bridge access. Fringe benefits: CBC/Radio-Canada and Molson gets free advertising.

All that being said, I’m anxious to find out who Mr. Poirier was supposed to meet with and what those discussions lead to.