Is the Blue Line expansion politically-motivated fantasy or reality?

You always need to be wary of press releases and newsers on Fridays. A couple Fridays back Premier Marois announced ‘a significant expansion’ of the Métro. Typically Fridays are when governments or corporations release bad news (because we’ll forget about it over the weekend), although in this case I think it was calculated to drive up positive sentiment towards the government by giving us a weekend to consider the possibilities of a major investment in public infrastructure.

Madame Marois has been, as you doubtlessly already know, taking quite a bit of flack for her proposed Québec Values Charter, to which all four Montreal mayoral candidates quickly denounced both the charter and the ministers responsible for it. And so, with an election looming on the horizon, Ms. Marois has decided to try and win hearts and minds with a Blue Line extension, east, to the Galleries d’Anjou or thereabouts.

Estimated cost: $2 billion.

But here’s the catch: it won’t be open until ‘sometime in the 2020s’ and all that’s been set aside for the moment is $40 million for a planning office with a two year mandate. So all the hullaballoo for nothing; we’re not going to see any action for quite some time, and I have my suspicions Ms. Marois’ government won’t see 2014.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely cynical. It’s just that we’ve gone through these motions before, as recently as 2009 in fact. On September 16th of that year ex-Premier Charest and ex-Mayor Tremblay announced a (comparatively) massive Métro expansion involving extensions of the Blue Line east to Anjou, in addition to extensions of the Yellow Line through Longueuil and closing the Orange Line loop across Laval and down through Cartierville.

And nothing came of that project either. Worse, costs were estimated about half what we’re being told it will cost per kilometre, about $300 million.

The last Métro extension, three stations into Laval completed in 2007, cost three-quarters of a billion dollars and was both severely delayed and grossly over budget.

The last Métro line to be completed (incidentally, the Blue Line) was so over-budget it actually resulted in a provincial moratorium on Métro expansion, one that lasted from 1988 until 2004. The Blue Line was originally designed to connect with the Mount Royal Tunnel, which passes directly underneath Edouard-Montpetit station, so it could provide access to downtown Montreal, but this was cancelled due to high cost. As you might imagine, the original design of the Blue Line extended all the way to – you guessed it – Anjou.

Edouard Monpetit Metro - original design
Edouard Monpetit Metro – original design

I’m not anti-expansion per se, but I think we need to be a lot smarter about it. I want the next mayor of Montreal to put a wholly new Métro financing and development system into place, one that is self-sustaining and has a single mission: to continuously expand the Métro into the higher density boroughs until much of the island, Laval and South Shore are fully inter-connected.

We need something like a crown corporation at the city level that would be responsible for building new tunnels and stations on an accelerated schedule and would employ engineers, architects, technicians and construction workers directly, so as to eliminate subcontracting out to private firms. Doing so has so far only resulted in graft, nepotism and fraud.

It would cost less if the city simply did the work itself. Unlike the private sphere, the public’s interest is to reduce, not inflate, costs.

We need to ask ourselves what we want our Métro to look like in twenty, thirty and forty years and determine where is best to expand. Much of the work has already been done for us so we don’t need to be too creative, the question is figuring out how to get it all done as quickly as possible, how to streamline the operation etc. At $300 million per kilometre we’re already within the ‘cost prohibitive’ range; if costs continue to spiral out of control (or if we continue to use an antiquated and inefficient development funding method) we simply won’t be able to expand the Métro at all.

And not being able to expand to meet current needs will preclude future urban densification, a stated goal of just about all the current mayoral candidates.

The Métro map I want to look at in twenty years time features a Blue Line connected to the city through the Mount Royal Tunnel, extending east to Anjou and west from Snowdon to an inter-modal station in Montreal-West, an addition of about five stations on each end. The future map has a much longer Yellow Line, extended by four or five stations to CEGEP Edouard-Montpetit, with another extension of this line up through the Latin Quarter towards Parc and Pine, before going back down to McGill Station.

This north-western extension of the Yellow Line from Berri-UQAM would alleviate congestion on the Green and Orange Line segments that pass through the downtown core. The Orange Line loop would be closed with inter-modal stations at Bois-Franc to alleviate congestion on the AMT’s Deux-Montagnes commuter-rail line.

I can also imagine the need for between two and three wholly new Métro lines. Based on population density alone, I’d argue we need a Métro line to run from Cote-Vertu east through Bordeaux and Ahuntsic, intersecting with Sauvé station on the Orange Line and continuing through Montréal-Nord with a terminus at CEGEP Marie-Victorin.

The AMT’s new ‘Train de l’Est’ will pass through here, but the cost of a monthly AMT pass may be too expensive for some of the poorer residents of the area. Moreover, it will likely be crowded with passengers coming in from farther east, so I think a ‘northern ridge’ Métro line would be a logical next step. It would provide Métro access to about 400 000 people. Another new line would likely need to be built in the East End, running from the Back River to the Green Line, along either Pie-IX or Lacordaire/Dickson.

Ultimately, we can’t continue building our Métro in a piecemeal fashion and the city has expanded beyond the range of the existing system. By developing the Métro within the existing high-density urban and semi-urban environments, we can further seek to increase on-island property values inasmuch as increase residential density.

* Top image from DashSpeed’s Fantasy Metro Expansion

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