May 14 2013

An Update on the Reconstruction of the Turcot Interchange in Montréal, Canada

In December 2011, a former Grid blogger, Yosef Robinson, wrote a piece about the reconstruction of the Turcot Interchange, a major highway junction in Montreal, Canada. The original proposal came about as the aging infrastructure was beginning to crumble. The project faced fierce opposition, as it planned to widen the interchange (going against everything we know about dealing with congestion), and also proposed to take the interchange off of its pillars and down to street-level. This would result in the expropriation of a large number of homes in the St-Henri neighbourhood and building a giant wall, 5 stories high in some places, throughout St-Henri.

Although most of the city professionals and community groups alike opposed the project, it has changed very little in recent iterations. When the provincial government changed hands last fall, there were hopes that the new government who had opposed the original proposal would propose something different. It did not.

Changes made to original plan

Changes made to original plan, MTQ 2009

Shannon Franssen, Coordinator at Solidarité St-Henri, has been an active force in the campaign against the project proposed by the Quebec Ministry of Transport. She stresses the missed opportunity this project represents. The government could boost public transit during the construction phase and therefore reduce both the number of cars on the road and the capacity on a newer, simpler interchange. Instead, the first iteration of the project did not include public transit additions, and the most recent version includes only a discontinued network of reserved bus lanes.

Franssen argues that the new interchange will actually be worse for the environment and neighbouring communities than the existing 1950s structure, as it will be brought down to embankments and into the St-Henri borough, and will be widened to increase capacity from 280,000 in 2011 to over 300,000 cars per day. Further, this 300,000 – a proposed reduction by the new government from the original 400,000 – is dubious, argues Franssen, as it relies on the adoption of carpooling, which she emphasizes means more than drawing carpooling lanes onto the road.

Turcot project

 Turcot project, MTQ 2009

With such fierce opposition to this project and its archaic design, one has to wonder who benefits from this project and why there has not been a greater push to make this project more sustainable, especially considering the ongoing scandals surrounding the engineering firms being considered for the contract. Do similar controversial projects exist in your city?

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

Devon Paige Willis

Devon Paige Willis is a native Montrealer and recent graduate of McGill University where she did her B.A. in Environment and Political Science. She discovered a passion for urban and transportation planning in her final year, during which time she attended UC Berkeley’s [IN]City introductory urban planning program and completed her honours thesis about cycling in Montreal, specifically measuring bikeability and understanding what affects cyclist satisfaction. She will pursue a Master of Urban Studies called 4Cities starting in September 2013. The Masters takes place in Brussels, Vienna, Copenhagen and Madrid and focus on European Urban Planning. She will be focusing on sustainable transportation and is especially interested in urban planning and transportation in suburban environments. She has her own urban planning blog at

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 14th, 2013 at 9:44 am and is filed under Engineering, Environment, Infrastructure, Transportation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


2 Responses to “An Update on the Reconstruction of the Turcot Interchange in Montréal, Canada”

  1. An Update on the Reconstruction of the Turcot Interchange in … – Real Estate Says:

    [...] An Update on the Reconstruction of the Turcot Interchange in … [...]

  2. Abram Says:

    This is a remarkably blinkered piece.

    Willis writes, “one has to wonder who benefits from this project.” Let’s set aside the question of freeway widening for a moment and look at the holistic impacts.

    —Large portions of Le Sud-Ouest will have reduced ambient noise due to the noise walls to be constructed on the filled part of A-720 (the “50 foot walls” referred to in articles).

    —Connecting Rue St. Jacques across to Rue Notre Dame will reduce traffic through the predominantly residential blufftop neighborhoods by relocating it to an industrial area.

    —Relocating both the A-20 and the railroad tracks to the base of the bluffs will open up productive industrial/commercial land along the north side of the Rue Notre Dame, which is currently landlocked between the freeway and the bluffs.

    —Dropping the elevation of the A-20/A-15 east of the interchange will reduce noise and visual impacts to the Cote Saint-Paul neighborhood.

    Now, this is not to say that I think it’s a perfect design. Having downloaded the most recent preliminary schematic off the project website, I can see a few changes I’d make if it was my project. But the basic idea of opening up land and rerouting arterial traffic to less populated areas is sound.

    The opposition to this project appears mainly driven by the current residents of the Village Des Tanneries, which will see about a block of rowhouses demolished. To call these properties marginal would be an understatement – all the houses to be demolished currently back up to an elevated, double-deck, eight-lane highway, which rains shadows, noise, and exhaust onto their backyards.

    Demoing this block and lowering the A-720 will actually reduce pollution and increase sunlight to the rest of the neighborhood, potentially spurring redevelopment. Of course, that may be the problem. The affordability wrought by the Village Des Tanneries’ proximity to the existing double-deck appears to have attracted a number of bohemians, who have made the neighborhood their own and are leading the opposition.

    I don’t mean to disparage the experience of being forced to relocate. Moving sucks. Seeing a house that you’ve put sweat equity into demolished is an emotionally trying experience, even if you’ve been compensated appropriately. For this reason one should always strive to minimize property takings in the design of any facility, whether highways or transit.

    However there’s no larger issue here. This project adds value to all surrounding boroughs. The primary objections are parochial opposition to a single, hyper-local impact to one subsection of one neighborhood.

    Finally, a note on the broader freeway traffic issue. As near as I can tell, no one is proposing to widen the A-720 beyond its present eight lane cross section. This means that total capacity into and out of Montreal remains the same, which is appropriate for a city with a well-developed rapid transit system.

    Rather, it appears the “widening” is primarily about reallocating lanes between various ramps, so that more flow goes to the A-20 and less to the A-15. This seems entirely reasonable. The Western Montreal suburbs never took off like planners thought they would. Mirabel lies fallow, the exclusive province of FedEx and FLPs. Meanwhile, the South has seen significant development, with all lanes of the Pont Mercier jammed daily.

    Now, granted, I haven’t seen the most recent detailed schematics. But if it’s anything like what I have seen, this is a project that reduces neighborhood impacts and increases developable land area over the status quo. You can’t say that about a lot of highway improvements.

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