City I Love; City I Fear

Echangeur TurcotThere are probably a few dozen valid theories as to why the infrastructure in Montréal is in such sad shape. Age, shoddy construction, and poor maintenance figure prominently on the list. The collapse of the La Concorde overpass on September 30, 2006 in Laval, just north of Montréal, was the tragic wakeup call signalling that time had run out and the problem could be ignored no longer.

Subsequently, it was found that the Turcot Interchange, pictured above, had reached the end of its useful life. Completed in 1967, today it not only handles 5 to 6 times the traffic for which it was designed, but it also has been found to have structural design flaws in addition to having concrete tumbling from it.

In recent weeks, taking the métro from my place to downtown or the Village has become a very attractive proposition. In February, the Rue St. Jacques exit on Autoroute 720 westbound — the exit just before the Turcot — was closed until July due to the construction of the new McGill mega hospital. The alternate exit became Queen Mary, which is the first from the Décarie Expressway after the Turcot and also my exit. Then, a water main break last month on the Décarie service road required a dreadful detour to get onto the southbound Décarie Expressway towards to Turcot. And finally, the westbound exchange on the Turcot from the 720 to the 20 was reduced to one lane; it would seem support rods were never installed (or at least not properly) when the damned thing was built in the ’60s!

While all this was happening, a report came out declaring that some spans on Canada’s busiest bridge, the Champlain connecting Montréal to the south shore, could collapse in the next 5 to 10 years. Major repairs are now underway, but it’s generally agreed that the bridge needs to be replaced. Memories of the La Concorde collapse are preventing everyone from dismissing these claims of possible collapse.

Crossing the river further west on the Mercier Bridge requires nerves of steel. Under repair since I moved here three years ago, it has seen little chunks of the deck crash into the river below. Southbound truck traffic is currently banned.

The Autoroute 30 bypass of Montréal is expected to be completed in 2012, but no one truly believes that’ll be the case. That means many trucks in transit through Montréal must continue to employ either the Champlain and Turcot or Autoroute 40 (called the Metropolitan through Montréal) that crosses the middle of the Island of Montréal. Truck traffic will probably always be significant on Autoroutes 20 and 40 in the city because of the many industrial parks found alongside each, but the bypass will eliminate many cars and trucks that needn’t come onto the Island.

I realize that driving around in a big city is almost always a nightmare, but here in Montréal, the fear of structures collapsing underneath you is very real. And what gets on my nerves is how slowly things that need to get done are getting done. Residents who have been living in the shadow of the Turcot for more than 40 years are an irritant at best. Of course in an ideal world, there would be more use of public transportation; however, when a structure like the Turcot has been there for so long and has become so necessary, this is not the time for wishful thinking and suggest scaling it back!

Contrary to what some might believe, the population in the metropolitan area of Montréal is still growing. When these structures were designed in the early 1960s, the metro population was 2.2 million; it is now at least 3.6 million, and unlike the métro, those structures have not aged gracefully. Ironically, the Victoria Bridge, opened in 1859, is probably the safest southbound route off the Island. Perhaps we should take a good look at how things were built back then and apply the knowledge to the new structures that now need to be built.