MONTREAL, Que. - Almost 8 million trucks a year - 22,000 a day - move in and out of the Montreal Metropolitan Region. And many of them will take Metropolitan Boulevard, the 46-kilometre stretch of Aut...
THE MET MESS: Metropolitan Boulevard, a 46-kilometre stretch of Autoroute 40 between the east and west sides of Montreal, is finally due to receive long-requested upgrades to ease congestion. (Photo by Carroll McCormick)
MONTREAL, Que. – Almost 8 million trucks a year – 22,000 a day – move in and out of the Montreal Metropolitan Region. And many of them will take Metropolitan Boulevard, the 46-kilometre stretch of Autoroute 40 between the east and west sides of Montreal Island.
But while congestion on the Met has been a growing sore spot for drivers, relief appeared in April with Transports Quebec’s announcement that it will spend $762.3 million to improve traffic flow along the route.
Completed in the early 1960s, the six-lane expressway handles an average of 160,000 vehicles a day. “It exceeds capacity by far,” said one Transport Quebec official, referring to traffic during ever-longer peak periods.
Most vehicles leave and enter the Met between the north-south Autoroutes 13 and 25 in the centre third of Montreal Island. On this stretch, a solid mass of traffic frequently grinds along at a mind-numbing kilometre or two per hour, especially where it hits the rat’s nest of low-speed on-ramps and off-ramps connecting it to the north-south Decarie Boulevard, which handles 180,000 vehicles a day.
“It is continuous traffic on the Met,” says Giuseppe (Joe) Gracioppo, a Montreal owner/operator who hauls containers. “I usually grab it twice a day. Crossing town should take 15 to 20 minutes, but sometimes it takes an hour to an hour and a half.” Gracioppo is paid by the trip that he should be able to complete in an hour. But the Met can cost him three moves a day.
At least he can now look forward to some relief.
The Met upgrade includes relocating some entrances and exits and rebuilding three major interchanges: Cote-de-Liesse, Decarie Circle and the intersection of Autoroute 40 and Autoroute 15 north.
The improvements, still in the design phase, are expected to also include collector lanes and possibly adding a stretch of highway above the existing one, or more lanes alongside them. Apparently not in the cards, though, is any plan that would actually stem the ever-increasing volume of traffic on the Met; traffic in the Montreal Metropolitan Region is expected to increase by 25 per cent by 2016, quadrupling the number of kilometres of congested routes. Worsening traffic conditions for trucks will greatly increase shipping costs, according to Transports Quebec.
Some people think the most obvious way to reduce Met traffic is to build a ring road for through traffic around Montreal Island. Currently, every single vehicle passing through the region struggles through a series of bottlenecks, most prominent among them the Louis-Hippolyte-La Fontaine Tunnel and the Champlain Bridge.
The Quebec Trucking Association (QTA) supports another project expected to ease Met traffic – particularly an element that has been on Transports Quebec’s drawing board for years. Autoroute 30, which roughly follows the St-Lawrence River along the South Shore, crosses Autoroutes 20 and 10, ends at Autoroute 15 in Candiac, starts up again in Sainte-Catherine and finally fizzles out in Chateauguay.
The QTA wants Transports Quebec to complete Autoroute 30, which was always supposed to continue west to Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, across the St-Lawrence and link up with Autoroute 20 in Vaudreuil-Dorion, a few kilometres west of Montreal Island. The idea already has the backing of a coalition of municipal mayors and business leaders.
“The Met improvements will help in the short term, but not in the long term. Everywhere in North America there are these routes that go around the cities for through traffic. But not in Montreal,” says Sophie Tremblay, a technical analyst for the QTA. “The 30 is the simplest solution,” she says. Yet Transports Quebec says only 2,000 vehicles, 700 of them trucks, would use Autoroute 30 each day. These figures obviously do not inspire the government to spend the $530 million required to extend Autoroute 30 the 35-km distance between Chateauguay and Autoroute 20 at Vaudreuil-Dorion.
The QTA disputes these figures, partly because Transports Quebec has a different definition of through traffic, says Tremblay. For example, she explains, Transports Quebec considers a truck going from Chambley to St.-Gerome to be local traffic because that route is wholly within the Montreal Metropolitan Region. The QTA argues that this should not be regarded as local.
Jean-Robert Lesard, the vice-president of Robert Transport in Boucherville, Que., also thinks the Transports figures are wrong. Around 350 Robert trucks cross Montreal Island each day. “I don’t know how Transports Quebec counts it, but over 24 hours, a lot of trucks pass over the Met,” says Lesard, referring to through traffic.
And Lesard believes the problem will only get worse. “Our concern is not only cost, but that drivers are losing time in their logbooks.” He has safety concerns, too. “It is stressful for drivers at the end of a trip from Toronto, hitting the Met at 7 a.m. They all says they don’t want to be in heavy traffic.”
Transports Quebec has declared the need to complete the missing section of Autoroute 30 between Candiac and Sainte Catherine a priority project … a 10-year priority, that is. The provincial ministry will spend $60.5 million to complete the section by 2005. The remaining $49.5 million will be spent by 2010.
The province has considered two ways to finance the rest of Autoroute 30: a public-private partnership and a provincial-federal initiative. The first option is unlikely, though, according one Transports Quebec official. “There is not enough traffic, from our estimates, to make it a private freeway, charge tolls and recoup interest.” The second option is under discussion in Ottawa.
Talk of bringing back toll roads surfaces occasionally but, says the Transports Quebec official, “It is not the intention of the ministry to place tolls on existing roads.” He says that the only current candidate would be the extension of Autoroute 25 that is planned between Montreal East and Laval. “The minister said ‘we are looking for (such) a partnership.'”
Any relief that Met improvements will bring will be felt only gradually. The revamping of the Decarie overpasses will begin early this summer, according to Transports Quebec, but it will take until the end of the decade to spend all of the money.
As for Autoroute 30, Lesard says Transport Minister Guy Chevrette has led him to believe that a completion date for the Autoroute 30 bypass might be moved up from about 2013 to perhaps 2007. n