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Old Posted Jun 13, 2008, 7:11 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: Montreal
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Montreal will have a tramway

The Gazette
Linda Gyulai

He's got the dream, now Mayor Gérald Tremblay needs the cash to build a tramway network, extend the métro, set up an airport shuttle and achieve other promises in his 20-year, $8.1-billion scheme to improve the flow of people and goods on Montreal Island.

On a day filled with competing news conferences and sparring press releases by Tremblay and city hall opposition leader Benoit Labonté, one of his main rivals in next year's municipal election, the mayor rolled out the final draft of his transportation plan yesterday.

While the new version appears unchanged from the initial draft he unveiled one year and two public consultations ago, Tremblay raised the stakes yesterday by pledging to complete the first of three tramway lines by 2013.

It's a commitment from my administration and we have an obligation to proceed," Tremblay said.

"Everyone," he added, "now recognizes the importance of public transit."

The city will launch the first of $1 million worth of feasibility and impact studies on the initial tramway route in the coming weeks, Tremblay said.

As The Gazette reported last week, the first line would be a six-kilometre circuit linking Old Montreal and downtown along Berri St., de la Commune St., Peel St. and René Lévesque Blvd.

The line would pass through the Griffintown neighbourhood south of downtown, where Montreal city council recently approved a controversial $1.3-billion commercial and residential project by a developer that urged the city to build the tramway.

The developer, Devimco Inc., has pledged $15 million toward construction, provided the tramway is built by 2014.

Other projects include:

- Building a rail shuttle between downtown and Trudeau airport within five years ($550 million), and then extending the route through the West Island.

- Extending the métro Blue Line one kilometre east from St. Michel Blvd. to Pie IX Blvd. within five years ($170 million) and, in 10 years, to Anjou borough ($775 million).

- Adding 500 public transit buses over 10 years ($300 million).

The pricetag for the initial Old Montreal-downtown tramway route is estimated at $260 million and should be ready for test runs around 2011, the plan says.

In the meantime, the Montreal Transit Corp. will operate buses on the route, starting on June 23.

The agency projects the bus route will become popular, with eventually 12,000 trips per weekday, and double that number during weekends, MTC spokesperson Isabelle Tremblay said last week.

The next two tramway routes, to be built in 10 years, would run on Park Ave. and on Côte des Neiges Rd., between Jean Talon and downtown.

The estimated cost of the three lines, covering 20 kilometres, is $985 million, the plan says.

But a key question for critics yesterday was whether Tremblay can bankroll his ambitions.

During a rival news conference to announce a plan for a new maritime entranceway to Montreal, Labonté said he's not against a tramway, but said his rival has yet to justify the choice.

"Santa Claus tells us in June that we are going to get an electric tramway," Labonté said.
"But we don't know which Christmas it's going to be."

Labonté and his Vision Montreal party also accused Tremblay of low-balling the cost to build the tramway.

The plan pegged the price at $45 million per kilometre.

However, studies by the provincial Metropolitan Transit Agency set the price per kilometre of a tramway line on Park Ave. at between $71 million and $88 million in 2005, Labonté said.

Tremblay said the cost cited in his plan is a fair estimate.

As for financing, the city is "very serious" about installing road tolls to garner about $200 million a year, he said.

The city is also negotiating with the Quebec government for new sources of revenue, he said.

The federal government, meanwhile, said yesterday it's open to funding for Montreal.

The government plans to invest $5 billion in infrastructure in Quebec in the coming years, Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon said in an email response to The Gazette.

The government is already collaborating with the city and the province on studies for the proposed rail link between downtown, Trudeau airport and the West Island, he said.

Meanwhile, Richard Bergeron, leader of Projet Montréal Party, doubted Tremblay's commitment to the tramway and accused the mayor of pilfering his party's 2005 election platform.

"Today is a big recycling day," Bergeron, a long-standing proponent of tramways, said following Tremblay's news conference.

"The bitter part of this announcement is that it's completely recycled and designed to captivate, but ... the willingness to implement isn't there."

The city of Montreal's $985-million tramway dream consists of:

- 20 kilometres of tramway service on three lines, beginning with a closed circuit through Old Montreal, Griffintown and downtown to be built by 2013. The other routes would be on Côte des Neiges Rd. and Park Ave., both between Jean Talon St. and downtown. More routes are possible in the future, the city says.

- Modern, electric tramway cars with low floors to allow for handicapped access.

- Stations that are outfitted with shelters and display boards providing real-time information on the arrival of the next tramway.

- A dedicated lane for the tramway cars with priority over car lanes at traffic lights.

Steps to building a tramway:

- 2008-2009: Impact studies, identify what kind of equipment will be needed, identify sites to build tramway garages, measure potential ridership.

- 2009: identify exact trajectory, decide on tramway stop locations, traffic studies, cost studies, economic impact studies, identify such related changes as bus route modifications.

- 2009-2001: Preliminary plan for the first tramway line.

- 2010-2012: Plans and specifications for contract tenders.

- 2011-2013: Construction.

- 2011-2013: Test runs.

- 2013: First line in operation.
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