Turcot: Keep the eyesore?

In the past month, it seems there’s been a rather large shift in public perception of the Turcot Interchange reconstruction project. All three major Montreal political parties have come out against it for not being green enough. The STM has come out against it. Over 100 individuals and groups have had something to say on the subject. You half expect Jean Charest is going to appear at a hearing and declare his government is outraged.

What gets me is that the Turcot project isn’t particularly evil. Yes, it involves a small number of expropriations and the public consultation process should have been done in the planning stage instead of after. But the core idea of the project – replacing a spaghetti network of aerial highways with a simpler, cheaper and easier-to-maintain ground-based interchange – was actually supposed to improve the city’s image, getting rid of what had almost universally been called an eyesore and a tired relic of 50s-era design, while improving the views of people who live in St. Henri.

The ministry of transport eventually acquiesced and agreed that there should be reserved bus lanes and other measures to encourage public transit, which should have been in the design regardless. But now they’re being asked by the green lefties to keep that eyesore in the sky. They argue that there would be more noise and dust if the cars were at ground level, and that it would cut off St. Henri from NDG (even though St. Henri is already cut off from NDG by a giant cliff).

I originally liked the idea of the Turcot being brought down to ground level when I first heard about it. There’s very little worth protecting directly under the interchange, and the savings on maintenance and improved views seemed to make it a no-brainer. Now I’m conflicted. Neither side has convinced me that their version is better for the environment, the neighbourhood and the city.

A special blog has been set up to keep people informed (separate from the anti-Turcot mobilization blog), and links to a del.icio.us feed of 62 articles about the Turcot project, sorted by language, subject and publication.

9 thoughts on “Turcot: Keep the eyesore?

  1. Jim J.

    One of the alternatives, of course, is to repair the existing Turcot to get it up to snuff (which probably isn’t very cheap), and then to maintain it in quasi-perpetuity as an elevated expressway interchange (which probably isn’t very cheap, either, considering that significant parts of it are 30 meters in the air).

    I’m no engineer, but I’m going to make the not-implausible assertion that a basic principle of civil engineering is that it is usually easier (i.e., cheaper) to fix and maintain things that are on the ground, as opposed to up in the air.

    If the interchange can be rebuilt (the operative word being ‘if’) so that its life-cycle costs are less expensive, and it can incorporate improved mass transit linkages, and can improve traffic flow, then why is it that people are opposed to this?

    ..but then, yet another alternative is just let it collapse into a giant pile of dust and debris.

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  2. Kahn

    I think it’s got to come down. The whole thing is ridiculous… and how much time, energy and money will be wasted maintaining this flying piece of spaghetti in the future?

    You’re right, NDG -is- already separated from St-Henri… by a cliff, the current turcot, some railway lines, etc. Are the green lefties going to take the blame when the current Turcot–because I’m sure they’ll do a fantastic job of maintaining it–falls apart and somebody gets killed?

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  3. Jean Naimard

    15 years ago, my sister was dating a CN worker who went to work at Turcot Yards. He said that when he walked underneath "spaghetti junction", he had to watch for falling concrete.
    That was 15 years ago.
    The thing was built 100 feet in the air to enable ships to pass on the Lachine Canal; otherwise, it would have been built like it is proposed to: near the ground, save for the big hill towards Décarie.
    That thing was built more than 40 years ago, and was designed to last at most 60 years (the crumbling is only the cosmetic covering; the structural innards are sound). But it will STILL have to be rebuilt when it hits it’s end of life, which is Real Soon Now™.
    Now what?
    Québec, as usual, barged-in cluelessly with it’s big boots and drew-up a project to replace what there is right now (The moron who had the great idea of making Québec the capital should be shot — I know, he’s dead, Jim — and you can thank The Gazoo for the 1849 riot that made sure Montréal would no longer be the capital). You obviously can’t ask government traffic engineers to be creative. Now, of course, after 40 years of being bled to death by all those autoroutes Québec has built to enable suburbanites to come and pollute our great city, Montréal has had enough, so it wants something else.
    With the eventual completion of highway 30 on the South-Shore, a lot of truck traffic will simply bypass Spaghetti Junction (or why not force those trucks on CN, like Switzerland and Austria do to european trucks???), so a legitimate question is "do we really need those urban autoroutes?".
    Likewise, Champlain bridge will hit the end of it’s life sooner than Spaghetti Junction, and will have to be replaced, too.
    And the Lafontaine tunnel, too, has been built at the same time as Spaghetti Junction (although I suspect that it was built to a higher standard than the rest, just because by being underwater, the smallest crack will spring a leak, triggering an avalanche of double plus ungood P.R.…
    Okay, so we’re obviously at a societal cusp; the autocentric way of life is showing more and more cracks. The unsustainability of forcing everyone to motorize increasingly shows it’s economic nonsenseness.
    Do we want to keep going this way, especially that there is a good probability that in 20 years, cars will no longer be affordable?
    What the greenies are saying is "we need to seriously rethink our transportation system, from scratch"; so it would be foolish to sink 3 billions (in Turcot alone) to extend an unsustainable transportation system for another 50 years; that money would be much better spent on a replacement transportation system.
    With 3 billion$$$, you can give the Montreal region a very good commuter train network, iron out the kinks in the current urban system and buy enough buses to accomodate the inevitable extra riders.
    Or you can replace a very localized part of the current crumbling transport system.
    It’s that simple.

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  4. Jody

    Re: “”What gets me is that the Turcot project isn’t particularly evil. Yes, it involves a small number of expropriations and the public consultation process should have been done in the planning stage instead of after. But the core idea of the project – replacing a spaghetti network of aerial highways with a simpler, cheaper and easier-to-maintain ground-based interchange – was actually supposed to improve the city’s image, getting rid of what had almost universally been called an eyesore and a tired relic of 50s-era design, while improving the views of people who live in St. Henri”.

    Newurbanshapes and Jean Naimard have it right. The core idea of the project Fagstein? … The MTQ presented us with a project that never questioned the core premise of replacing one highway with another. If they had really wanted to ‘improve the city’s image etc’, they would have looked at the world around them and at least kept in line with the trend towards sustainable modal transportation systems.
    And the project certainly did not ‘improve the views of people who live in St Henri’ unless you consider looking straight into a concrete soud barrier an improvement.

    Re: ”I originally liked the idea of the Turcot being brought down to ground level when I first heard about it. There’s very little worth protecting directly under the interchange, and the savings on maintenance and improved views seemed to make it a no-brainer. Now I’m conflicted. Neither side has convinced me that their version is better for the environment, the neighbourhood and the city’.’

    As for the ‘very little worth protecting’: Aside from the existing ecosystem within the Falaise St Jacques and the huge potential for developing an even better greenspace ( restoring the wetlands of Lac à Loutre being one example), I think what is at stake is our health, not to mention the health of our planet.

    The ‘greenies’ include the public health department of Montreal, seniors’ associations, university researchers, international experts, etc. not to mention average citizens who took the time to educate themselves about the many societal and environmental repercussions that will result were the MTQ plan be pushed through. I suggest reading MONTREAL AT THE CROSSROADS (available at Paragraphe bookstore), a compilation of articles by various experts that will not fail to convince you that better alternatives do exist.

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  5. Desmond Bliek

    Steve- while the current state of the Turcot is somewhat disgraceful, and its impact as part of a larger system that contributes to lowering the livability of central Montréal is unquestionable, consider the following:

    1- If designed with adequate resources and ample creativity, the terrain underneath the interchange, along the Canal, close to a major recreation centre, would the main connection between the potentially re-developable (and possibly canalside) Turcot Yards and the rest of southwest Montréal (esp. Saint-Henri). Though sketchy at the moment, this place has significant potential and has the virtue of allowing virtually unrestricted freedom of movement at ground level, something that the MTQ proposals would eradicate. There are other possibilities for that ground – the Lac à la Loutre wetlands, skate parks, expanded spaces for recreation, studio space for metal bands to practice, to name a few – all of which are fundamentally more urban and engaging than bringing the visual, aural, and nasal assault of a freeway interchange that much closer to the ground-level experience of an urban neighbourhood. And although the heavily landcaped berms and beige retaining walls shown by the MTQ look vaguely pleasant on paper/screen, keep in mind that these are the same folks who’ve done such a bang up job on maintenance to date – one can only imagine that all those berms and walls packed with lush vegetation will be kept up to a similar standard.

    2- Landscaped berms and beige retaining walls. Where are we? The MTQ proposals look like the interchange between Anthony Henday Drive and Gateway Boulevard in deepest suburban Edmonton. The Turcot as it stands is a majestic gateway to the metropolis – the excitement builds as one drives in (or, perhaps someday glides in by train from Ontario or Dorval) and passes through this colossus of modernity and glimpses the downtown skyline in the distance, with Saint-Henri’s church towers below, tightly hugging the escarpment below Westmount. Welcome to the big city, the metropolis; feel the buzz and the building excitement and anticipation, the sense of arrival. The MTQ’s proposal, while continuing the modernist notion of easy motoring everywhere all the time, demolishes what is one of its most significant monuments in Montréal – more visited and experienced than any of the relics on Île Sainte-Hélène or Notre-Dame, and replaces it with the most banal elements of South Edmonton Common, with too much road salt and not enough oil money to keep it looking tidy.

    Surely we can preserve this bit of urban heroism while considering all the alternatives available (vastly better transit) to reduce its impact (taking back the streets for more than just cars) and to tame and scale back the system (not extending autoroute Ville-Marie through Hochelaga) of which it is such a hub. Surely we can claim this piece of history as part of the city with an inventive, decent, and thorough treatment of the relationship between it and the ground, the adjacent streets, and the canal. It’s more than an interchange – it’s a piece of Montréal’s industrial and infrastructural history as much as the Five Roses, the écluses Saint-Gabriel, or the still-gasping bones of Griffintown. We’ve just never given it the attention required in terms of design – especially on the ground level – or bothered to systematically invest in the alternatives that may help to reduce its impact on urban livability.

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    1. Jason Prince

      BOY, you said something that I never ever thought about, and ELEGANTLY!

      Desmond, I have been deeply involved in this Turcot debate for over a year now, and until just a month ago, I always regarded the “structure huggers” argument as a little….weak. But a month ago, i visited the beast with a sculptor friend of mine, and I saw it as never before. And now you have added motion to my understanding. Can I quote you on this? I would love to cut and paste and repost your comments on http://www.turcot.ca.

      Let me know.

      Jason Prince
      McGill

      Reply

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