» Just a month after city commits to streetcar network, three metro extensions are put into play.
In the early 1990s, Québec’s ruling Liberal Party stopped funding extensions of the Montréal metro after having built four lines to serve the dense island’s core since 1966. The rise of the Parti Québecois in the mid 1990s allowed for the completion of one more expansion: northwest to Laval, which was served by three new stations by the time the project opened in 2007 to wild success. Despite its diminutive length of only 40 miles, Montréal has built North America’s most ambitious inner-city rapid transit scheme outside of Washington, D.C., serving the third-largest number of passengers overall behind New York and Mexico City and attracting the second-highest ridership per capita behind New York.
The network’s popularity has not been unnoticed by politicians at the municipal and provincial levels. Just months before elections are likely to occur, the Liberal Party, now in charge of the Province and hoping to regain control of the federal government, The Québec Liberal Party, unaffiliated with the federal Liberals, has announced its support for three new extensions to the system which could increase its size by one-third by 2020. Though the new projects will undergo C$12 million in feasibility studies over the next three years before construction can begin on what will be a C$4 billion program, Québec Premier Jean Charest stood with the mayors of Montréal, Longueuil, and Laval to note that the government was at a point of “non-retour;” in other words, the decision to invest in these projects is irreversible.
The action comes just a month after Montréal Mayor Gérald Tremblay announced his commitment to a C$700 million tramway line running from downtown along the Côte des Neiges through Outremont. It also coincides with the transit renaissance currently taking place in Toronto and Vancouver, each of which have committed billions to new projects.
Blue, Yellow, and Orange Lines will see 20 km of new service, all underground, if the plans announced this week come to fruition. The Blue Line would be expanded by 5 km north to Anjou from its current terminus at Saint-Michel; this corridor would be the first built because it has already undergone extensive planning. The short Yellow Line would see a 5 km extension into Longueuil. Meanwhile, the already-overflowing trains from Laval would be reinforced by the 10 km looping of the Orange Line, allowing commuters in the off-island suburb service to both north and south sides of Parc Mont Royal.
Missing from the proposals is any effort to expand the network to West Island communities such as Montréal-Ouest and Côte Saint-Luc, each of which are arguably just as densely populated as the areas to be served by the other metro extensions. To some in the anglophone press, this is seen as an affront to English-speaking neighborhoods, though it seems just as likely that this decision was the inevitable consequence of the municipal demerger of Montréal island in 2006. A referendum in 2005 recreated a number of independent cities, mostly on the west side, after Québec Province merged the entire island into the city of Montréal in 2002.
The demerger came with its negative consequences for the cities that wanted to be left alone, providing an incentive for the still-dominant city of Montréal to concentrate on providing transit service within its shrunken boundaries — which explains, notably, why the Blue Line is being extended east, not west. The coalition of the mayors of Montréal, Longueuil, and Laval pushed for this new commitment from Québec Province, and since there is now no authority that manages the island as a whole, this was a battle for political supremacy that could not be won by the small cities of west island. We would likely be seeing a different proposal for new lines today if the 2002 merger had remained in place, especially since tunnels that would allow for a western extension of the Blue Line have already been partially built.
At this point, it is unclear who will pay for these lines, though it seems probable that Québec Province will take the primary role in funding. The federal commitment of billions of dollars to Toronto and Vancouver over the past few months suggests it would be fair for Montréal to receive a similar donation — though it might result in one of the projects being renamed the Canada Line. The city must resolve some fiscal problems in the meantime — its trainsets are decades old and need to be replaced over the next few years. But the outlook for these extensions look good. Or at least, that’s the impression the Liberal Party wants to portray going into elections later this year.