A15 upgrades continue

by Carroll McCormick

ST. BERNARD DE LACOLLE, Que. – Highway improvements and truck pre-selection should speed traffic through the St. Bernard de Lacolle border area and to and from Montreal on Autoroute 15. Transports Quebec has already spent about half of $75 million that has been budgeted for several projects, and more truck-friendly improvements, including a dedicated lane and more rest stop services, are to come in the next two years.

The 50-kilometre stretch between Montreal’s South Shore and the head of Interstate 87 in New York State carries about 43 per-cent of all of the Quebec-United States truck traffic. That’s by now well in excess of the 700,000 trucks that plied the A15 in 1997, the year the last major upgrade – $19.8 million worth of improvements – to the Lacolle border area was made.

About $32 million of the $52.1 million budgeted to remodel the A15 to make it safer, has already been spent. The effects are particularly appreciated in the stretch between the Champlain and Mercier bridges, where the highway has been widened and curves made more gentle. Another $8 million has been budgeted for improvements in the services offered in the existing rest area, about five kilometres north of the border, with construction slated to begin in the spring of 2003. “We are currently defining the services we will give truckers at this area. The project will be finalized in February or March.

“The rest of the $8 million will be for improvements to the A15 along the whole highway from Montreal to Lacolle,” says Benoit Cayouette, senior transportation advisor with Transports Quebec. Cayouette is in charge of all the aspects of the border reconstruction, and the co-ordinator of the United States and Quebec activities.

Transports Quebec also plans to build a dedicated truck lane that will begin just shy of the border – probably starting at Exit 1 – that will separate trucks from cars and bring trucks to the United States border inspection facilities.

Also, says Cayouette, “We think we will need northbound truck lanes to make it easier to get from the exit of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA) facilities to the northbound A15. We will redesign the truck access to make it safer and easier.” Construction of at least one of the truck lanes could begin this year.

For the border area, $8.8 million has been budgeted to build a truck inspection facility just beside the CCRA inspection site. The facility will reflect the capabilities of the Port of Excellence on the U.S. side. “We want the equivalent on the Canadian side,” says Cayouette.

The planned facility, the details of which are still being finalized, will be equipped with technology to pre-select trucks. “The pre-selection will be done on-site. We will install recognition cameras which will take photos of plates, to make it easier for the Socit de l’assurance automobile du Qubec to select carriers that have bad records. This is all about risk management,” says Cayouette. “We are collaborating with the New York Department of Transportation to ensure the same level of inspection so it won’t be tougher on the United States side than on our side.” The facility should be finished by 2004, about the same time as the Port of Excellence.

Tracking will be done before the trucks reach the Canadian border and pre-selections will be done before the trucks reach the CCRA inspection site on the Canadian side. The tentative arrangement – those trucks selected for inspections will be pulled over after leaving the CCRA site. This should speed traffic because, says Cayouette, “If you are a good carrier you won’t have to stop for nothing.”

The $6.3 million budgeted for the truck tracking includes something called an Intelligent Transportation System, which includes pre-selection devices such as transponder readers and cameras. It also includes equipment that will manage traffic, for example, so the Americans can open more booths if truck traffic is seen to be backing up.

The CCRA has also opened a dedicated Free and Secure Trade (FAST) lane, which should begin processing approved carriers around Jan. 20, once the first carriers are approved and all of the procedures are put into place.

“Throughput should improve in 2003 and the whole project should be ended in 2004 or the spring of 2005,” says Cayouette. “I think we are going to have a great project.”

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