Montreal's new plan to shelve Cavendish extension is a shocker

City's new plan to shelve Cavendish extension is a shocker
Montreal transportation plan puts scheme on back burner despite 25 years of study

by Mayor Anthony Housefather and Councillor Dida Berku
Published in The Gazette
Wednesday, May 30, 2007

This month, Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay proposed a transportation plan that would allegedly spur economic and social development on the island of Montreal. The plan includes 21 projects such as the creation of a tramway on Park Ave., the extension of the metro to the east end and the creation of 400 kilometres of bike baths.

While some of these projects are laudable, we were shocked the long overdue extension of Cavendish Blvd. has been delayed once again, for more than 10 years. After 25 years of study, six years of promises from the Montreal administration and more than two years of study by an engineering task force, the city of Montreal has ignored its promises and its timeline to build the Cavendish corridor to connect St. Laurent and Cote St. Luc by 2012.

A north-south Cavendish Blvd. link is the missing piece in the island of Montreal road network. Initial discussions on connecting its two parts started in the mid-1960s and major studies were done in 1981, 1988, 1992, 1995, 1996 and 2000. In December 2004, Montreal earmarked $5 million for an engineering task force called the Project Bureau on Cavendish Extension to prepare feasibility studies and make recommendations on the best routes. The project bureau was also given a strict timeline to present options, hold public consultations and begin construction by 2007.

In 2006, Cote St. Luc wanted to go public with the route options under review by the project bureau. Montreal asked us to delay because, it argued, we were partners and the options should be shown to all concerned parties at the same time. Out of deference, we agreed. We waited for the Montreal executive committee to review the project, consult its partners and announce to the public the best route option. The announcement never came.

In the transportation plan, we learned why. Without any respect or consultation of its so-called partners, Montreal put the Cavendish-to-Cavendish link on the back burner for more than 10 years. In doing so, Montreal has not respected its own deadlines and continues to delay presenting the project-bureau recommendations - a delay that might eventually require Montreal to commission new studies in the future.

Given how the Montreal agglomeration has functioned thus far, it is not surprising that Tremblay announced the transportation plan without first consulting the other cities and towns on the island of Montreal - whose taxpayers will have to pay for many of these projects. If ever the Quebec government needed to be convinced of the utter lack of consultation and democracy in the structure it created, this is yet another perfect example.

In 2005, the Tremblay administration adopted an urban master plan that identified the development of the Decarie/Cavendish/ Jean Talon West sector as an important priority and planning area for the island of Montreal. Its 2005 urban master plan states the "railway infrastructure, the expressway corridor which is very congested all limit the potential for growth. The Cite Scientifique, the TMR industrial park along Royalmount, the Hippodrome site and the residential and commercial area in Cote St. Luc would all benefit from the opening up of the Cavendish Boulevard corridor. "

In 2005, Montreal agreed the Cavendish-to-Cavendish link was vital. Yet today, in 2007, Montreal chooses to delay it. Instead of maintaining as its priority the link at a cost of about $140 million, the Tremblay administration now favours a 10-year $985-million project to put street cars in Old Montreal, on Park Ave. and Cote des Neiges Rd. The street car costs balloon to $1.4 billion when you factor in the annual operating expenses over 10 years.

Cote St. Luc has proposed creative ways to fund the $140-million Cavendish extension project, including reversing a generous property tax break given to Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways in 1992 by the Quebec government. As the largest property owners in the sector, CN and CP should pay their fair share in taxes at the same rate as every other business - especially since the railways are now enjoying record profits.

The economic benefit that would be generated along the Cavendish Blvd. corridor would also help fund the project. For instance, the owners and developers of Cavendish Mall have been waiting for years for this road extension, which could result in the investment of tens of millions of dollars in commercial and residential redevelopment.

The transport plan recognizes the value of developing an active transport corridor along Cavendish that includes space for bicycle paths, buses, walking paths and cars. If Montreal is truly concerned about reversing climate change, it would act sooner rather than later to reduce idling car traffic along Decarie Blvd., between Van Horne/Fleet and Cote de Liesse and give motorists an active transport alternative.

Anthony Housefather is the mayor of Cote St. Luc. Dida Berku is a councillor in Cote St. Luc.

(Both the city and agglomeration councils will hold hearings on the plan at Montreal city hall. The agglomeration council will have a presentation of the plan at 7 p.m. on June 11. Briefs will be filed at 7 p.m. on Aug. 29. Montreal city council will present the plan on June 20 at 7 p.m., and receive briefs on Aug. 22 at 7 p.m.)