There was a quiet little news item released last Friday by Radio Canada/CBC, the traditional day for burying a story, that has strangely not generated much of a reaction in the media. The Ministry Of Transport Quebec (MTQ) announced that they would proceed with their original Turcot Plan with two modifications – there would be less demolition of local housing than originally planned and the elevated section of the 15 South would remain elevated instead of being on ground level thus cutting a district in half and increasing health concerns in the area. While these are good things relative to the original plan, it is still profoundly disappointing news, though not entirely unexpected, for people in what might be called the Turcot “community”. Perhaps the most cynical and outdated aspect of the project is it’s intention of increasing capacity at Turcot from 280,000 vehicles a day to 304,000 vehicles a day while making no provisions for increasing public transportation. It seems the MTQ has remained determined to drive at 100kph into a 1950’s era type of brick wall. And it is Montreal that will suffer the consequences.
Since the Turcot Plan of the MTQ was announced in June of 2007 there has been a groundswell of groups and individuals that have criticized every aspect of the plan. Mobilisation Turcot
is a coalition of community groups and residents of the Sud Ouest Borough and people from all over Montreal that has worked very, very hard to raise public awareness of the Turcot issues, and get the MTQ to sit down with the community and rethink Turcot into a win win situation. The latter did not happen.
Montreal At The Crossroads: Superhighways, The Turcot, and The Environment is a book containing essays written by local professionals in areas such as Environmental Biology, Architecture, Engineering, Urban Planning, Health Sciences, Community Planning, and Environmental Assessment, among others. It is an impressive, contemporary book whose authors suggest that not only is what we do at Turcot going to define Montreal for the future, but could serve as an optimistic model for how other cities could deal with their old, outmoded infrastructure. The authors unanimously agree that the current Turcot plan of the MTQ cannot be part of an effective sustainable plan for the city, is deficient in encouraging the use of public transportation, and will be the source of even greater health risks in the nearby residential areas, and that will include the superhospital on the old Glen Yard site. (think about that one a bit – they will intentionally increase traffic right beside the building of a new hospital). Again, it appears the MTQ is just unwilling to pay attention.
The BAPE hearings in June of 2009 produced an astonishing number of briefs that negatively criticized the Turcot Plan. 85% were negative in fact. And there were presenters from seemingly unlikely locations as Lachine and Cote Saint Luc who presented briefs on how important the development of Turcot Yards to the whole urban region was in reality. Under the MTQ plan Turcot had become a land of missed opportunities, but the presentations at the BAPE encouraged bold and exciting new ideas. But the payoff at the BAPE came when all three leaders of Montreal’s major political parties presented briefs criticizing the MTQ plan! One might think that that would be enough to turn the tide, but, no, the MTQ rejected these requests, especially in regard to capacity, health, and public transportation.
One of the most dramatic changes under the Turcot plan will be to move Highway 20 over to the Falaise Saint Jacques. This will effectively kill the Falaise as both an ecoterritory on Montreal Island and as a crucial piece in a proposed greenbelt for the west side of the city. Highway 20 is not broken. Only the elevated portions of Turcot need to be fixed/replaced. The MTQ is proposing to spend millions and millions of dollars on something that does not need to be done. And in the process destroying all the potential of the Falaise while cutting off all north south possibilities through Turcot.
Turcot is a political struggle. The modifications presented Friday are concessions designed to show a spirit of openness and to silence the opposition. But the truth remains that it is a poorly conceived project that regards Montreal merely as a logistical problem to be solved using hopelessly outdated beliefs about how cities will function in the 21st century.
Montreal is unable to control it’s own destiny because politicians and bureaucrats in Quebec City do not have the courage, let alone an actual relevant vision, to let us grow according to our needs and our desires. The government is more worried about remaining popular with the rural ridings of the province who hold the keys to power. It is not paying attention to what is important to Montreal nor does it seem to want to hear about our silly visions of a great sustainable city. The Turcot plan is more like revenge rather than a gift.
Jean Charest is avoiding a public inquiry into corruption charges in the Quebec construction industry and corruption played a huge role in the 30 year debt incurred by the construction of the Olympic games. This is not a secret. The Turcot plan is almost nostalgic in it’s eerily familiar potential to begin an infrastructure rebuilding program that will sentence another generation of Montrealers into debt. We have to start doing things right at all levels if we are going to avoid an economic and social catastrophe. And we should have started it yesterday.
The Quebec Government is going to have to stand up and take full credit for the Turcot plan because Montrealers have signed off the whole deal. We need to hear Jean Charest tell us what a wonderful thing the Turcot plan is and how good it will be for us. And maybe we will believe him, but I don’t think so.
The fight has only now begun.