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Trucking in the new Montreal

MONTREAL, Que. - If Montreal's Transportation Plan 2007, made public on May 18, is executed as written, the trucking industry will see a mixed bag of road improvements, standardization of municipal tr...

MONTREAL, Que. – If Montreal’s Transportation Plan 2007, made public on May 18, is executed as written, the trucking industry will see a mixed bag of road improvements, standardization of municipal trucking plans, tolls and special regulations for dangerous goods and weights and dimensions.

The 10-year goal of the plan is to transform the Island of Montreal into a greener, more environmentally- and resident-friendly place, with more mass transit, safer streets for pedestrians, more bicycle routes, more rapid transit and less reliance on cars. The way merchandise is transported gets considerable treatment too in the plan, from new intermodal centres to strengthening rail transport and the trucking network.

At least eight sets of changes would affect the trucking industry, including harmonizing trucking regulations across the Island’s municipalities, publishing a map of the trucking network, improving access to the major highways from the Ports of Montreal, restrictions on when dangerous goods can be moved, special changes to weights and dimension legislation and more police surveillance.

Which of these ideas will come out in the wash is anyone’s guess though. The 21 major projects in the plan will, says the plan, cost five billion smackers over the next 10 years (if the 500% cost overrun of the infamous Laval metro extension is any window into the future, one might want to multiply the plan’s price tag by a few times), and many groups are having plenty to say about the plan, subtitled “a consultation document.” Indeed.

Some of the ideas certainly rub the Quebec Trucking Association (QTA) the wrong way. Take the proposal to toll all the bridges coming onto the Island to raise money for the projects in the plan.

“Tolls are ludicrous. It is the best way to isolate Montreal from the rest of the metropolitan territory. This is the best way to make sure Montreal has the most expensive goods consumed,” says Marc Cadieux, president and director general of the QTA. He also points out that Montreal-area vehicle owners already pay fuel and vehicle registration surcharges to fund Montreal’s infrastructure costs, on top of a billion dollars that the trucking industry pays to the province.

But Andre Lavallee, Montreal executive committee member responsible for public transit, notes that different methods are being studied to raise money – so will there ever be tolls?

On the topic of proposing that Montreal get special powers to change weights and dimensions, Lavallee notes that, “In many cities there is a city centre and a perimeter and only small trucks are allowed in the city centres.” He explains that the plan envisions transferring goods from larger trucks to smaller ones for deliveries in the city centre, which would help smooth traffic flow.

As for changing the rules on the transportation of dangerous goods on the Island, he says, “We want to improve our competence. We have not had many accidents. We want to continue our approach for the prevention of dangerous goods spills. The majority of dangerous goods are moved during peak hours and we want to reduce this to reduce the possibility of accidents.”

Montreal wants to work with companies to figure out ways to reduce overall truck traffic during the rush hours. In principle this seems like a lovely idea; witness how the A20 eastbound from the Metropolitan Boulevard to the Lafontaine Tunnel virtually turns into a parking lot for trucks every day. It will be interesting to see whether the production patterns of Montreal’s industries can be changed to enable any restructuring of when cargo comes and goes.

On the W&D file, Sophie Tremblay, the coordinator of the technical and operations file with the QTA says, “I don’t know what they really mean by that. If they want to get involved in that, we disagree with that too. We don’t need municipalities in on that. It is a very complicated expertise that we should leave to the Ministry of Transport.”

Same goes for dangerous goods: “The plan says that they want to ban the transportation of dangerous goods during rush hour and other hours. I don’t think they have to power to regulate that. This is provincially or federally regulated. We have been on the committee for the Board of Montreal for five years and it has never been raised. We do not know why they brought this up,” says Tremblay.

Rebuilding Notre-Dame street to improve the flow of trucks between the Ports of Montreal and the autoroutes is one of the 21 major projects. “For us the project will be important because it will improve the flow of trucks on Notre-Dame street,” says France Poulin, director of communications with the Ports of Montreal. Montreal has already done some temporary work, and Transports Quebec has monies earmarked for Notre-Dame for 2008.

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