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Rolling the dice on Quebec’s infrastructure

Have you seen so many Transport Quebec trucks in one place in your life?

Infrastructure is one of those things – nobody pays it any attention to it until it fails. People have better things to worry about, so they don’t think about their water pipes, their electricity lines, their building foundations or their roads or bridges, so long as they’re working properly. But when something goes wrong, any of these can suddenly become a top priority.

For this same reason, those who are in charge of infrastructure tend not to prioritize it. If the people don’t care, why should the government? Making a working thing still work is not going to win you as many votes as making a brand new thing. And that’s a logic that’s not reserved for inept governments. Given the choice between paying a professional engineer to do an inspection on that seemingly innocuous crack in a home’s foundation and spending that money on a new big-screen TV, which do you think is going to be the more common choice?

Lessons from NASA

(Feel free to skip this section if you know what STS-51-L and the Rogers Commission are)

When I hear about major infrastructure failures, like the de la Concorde overpass collapse in 2006, I think about the Space Shuttle.

The Space Shuttle was an extremely complex system, requiring thousands of highly educated experts to work together to make it a success. But of all those engineers, scientists, programmers, administrators and other staff, it’s just those handful of people who actually board the shuttle for a trip into space that really attract the public’s attention. And for every mission, it’s only those few days spent actually executing it that people notice (if even that).

On a cold day in January 1986, all those experts worked hard to send one of those space shuttles into orbit. Like a scene from a movie, the flight director asks department heads if they’re prepared for launch, and if everyone agrees, gives the “go for launch”, which can be revoked right up until liftoff. The launch can even be aborted while in progress. There’s a procedure for all that, because those really smart people have pondered every contingency.

Launch delays for the shuttle program were so common as to be routine. Mechanical issues and bad weather were the most common reasons (there are uncommon reasons too). But they’re also very expensive, not to mention how bad they look for the public, even if they understand that safety is paramount.

The launch of STS-51-L was delayed multiple times, because of bad weather at the launch site, bad weather at emergency landing sites, and mechanical failure. It was six days after its originally scheduled launch that it finally took off from the pad at Kennedy Space Center. And even then it was over the objection of engineers who were worried about the effect the cold might have on a critical component of the external solid rocket booster.

Actually, it wasn’t quite like that. There wasn’t some veteran gray-haired engineer sitting at mission control explaining exactly what would happen, screaming that no one was listening to him and guaranteeing that the shuttle would explode if it lifted off. The conversation actually took place internally within the contractor responsible for the rocket booster. The engineers in charge signed off on the launch despite the concerns. And it’s not too hard to understand the logic. The concern was theoretical. It wasn’t guaranteed that the part would fail, and even if it did, there was a backup.

On Jan. 28, with the weather having warmed up and no remaining reasons for delay, STS-51-L took off. Everything looked fine for 73 seconds, even though the part in question – an O-ring seal around the right solid rocket booster – had indeed failed, along with its backup. By the time anyone noticed something was wrong, the failure led to the solid rocket booster partially detaching, the centre fuel tank disintegrated and the orbiter was torn apart.

What millions on the ground and on television saw was an explosion and clouds of vapor heading in directions they’re not supposed to go. The Space Shuttle Challenger had been destroyed, and its seven astronauts wouldn’t survive. (Their exact cause of death isn’t clear, but they survived the explosion and may have even been conscious as they plummeted to their deaths.)

An inquiry was ordered, and it was thorough. Blame was spread around, particularly among those who dismissed safety concerns because they wanted the launch to proceed. But there was also blame placed on a culture where risks were be minimized because of overconfidence in the safety of the system as a whole. So much redundancy was built in, and minor failures in such a complex vehicle were so common, that concerns about even serious problems were easily dismissed.

The shuttle program was grounded and the next one wouldn’t take off until 32 months later. NASA made sweeping changes as a result of the report, and the disaster is even taught to engineering students as a lesson in what happens when one becomes overconfident in safety. The hope was that, for the shuttle program specifically and for major engineering projects in general, such a mistake would never be allowed to happen again.

And then it did.

The circumstances and cause were radically different for the Columbia disaster on Feb. 1, 2003. It happened on re-entry, not takeoff, and while there were concerns about damage before it began its doomed descent into the atmosphere, nobody really had a clear idea what kind of damage could be caused by a simple piece of foam flying off the external fuel tank.

Still, the conclusion reached after the second fatal accident in the shuttle program was that NASA had not learned its lesson from Challenger. The culture had not sufficiently changed, and safety concerns were being dismissed wen the likelihood of them causing significant trouble was low.

A hole beneath the elevated Metropolitan Expressway currently being repaired

Risk management

Whenever I hear a politician, a company CEO or anyone else say that safety is their “number one priority” or that they don’t take any chances with safety, I cringe. Because really, safety is not paramount. It’s a risk, one they try to minimize but only so far as their budget can reasonably take them. If it costs too much money to reduce the risk of injury from almost impossible to impossible, they’ll stick with almost impossible, so long as they can do so legally.

And the rest of us are the same. Yes, speed kills, but the vast majority of speeding doesn’t result in death. A driver who goes 120 km/h in a 100 zone is increasing the risks to himself and others around him, but the chances are still pretty low that anything bad is going to happen. You buy your car with airbags and crumple zones because you know that the chances are pretty good that someday something might happen, but on a given day the likelihood is too small to even think about.

It’s called risk management. Nothing can be made 100% safe, so a balance is reached where there’s an acceptable (very low) level of risk that can be achieved economically.

The question, then, becomes where this balance is to be placed. For something where failure is a mere inconvenience (like, say, cable TV), something like 99% or 99.9% is sufficient. People will complain when they get to that 0.1% of the time, but there won’t be any commissions convened to investigate it. For infrastructure where failure can mean fatalities (like in a bridge or tunnel), 99.9% is nowhere near adequate. Even a 99.999% success rate would mean failure for one out of every 100,000, or a couple of cars a day on the Turcot Interchange. It has to be 100%, and it has to be everywhere.

Workers do repairs on the St. Pierre Interchange at night to minimize traffic disruption

Quebec, you’ve lost me

Before Sunday, I had confidence in Quebec’s infrastructure. You might think that’s ridiculous, with all the news I’ve been exposed to about collapsing overpasses, crumbling bridges and surprise sinkholes under our roads. But things I had seen gave me more hope than fear. When the government shut down one span of the Mercier Bridge, it acted before there was structural failure and before anyone died. When Transport Quebec imposed lane reductions on the Turcot Interchange, it did so as a proactive measure. While Montreal motorists whined that this was all evidence of the government being irresponsible about infrastructure, I took it the opposite way.

But the collapse of a “paralume” at the entrance to the Viger Tunnel on Sunday changed my feeling on the subject. It was entirely subjective, and maybe not entirely rational (it looks increasingly like this was the result of a mistake in repairs to the tunnel’s walls rather than a case of not noticing a badly decayed structure). But as of that moment I couldn’t trust Transport Quebec to keep roads safe.

Transport Minister Sam Hamad isn’t exactly helping matters. When asked point blank by CTV’s Todd van der Heyden whether he’s ultimately responsible for what goes on in his department, Hamad avoided answering the question. To Daybreak’s Mike Finnerty earlier in the day, he compared what happened to a plumber doing a bad job on your house, saying it was the plumber, not the home owner, who would be responsible. Hamad clearly wants to blame anyone but himself for this.

And yet the man who’s responsible for nothing was in charge enough to reassure us that any road that’s open to traffic in Quebec is safe – while standing in front of the proof that his statement was clearly not true.

But I’m not calling for Hamad’s resignation as transport minister. Yes, he’s incredibly bad at media relations, and he can’t take responsibility for his own department. But do we seriously think that the next person Jean Charest appoints to this cabinet post is going to do anything substantially different, other than being a better bullshitter?

Odd sight of an empty Ville-Marie Expressway during the morning rush hour

And this isn’t just Hamad’s fault. Quebec’s infrastructure problem predates his tenure as transport minister. It predates the Charest Liberal government. In fact, funding for inspections has gone up significantly since the de la Concorde collapse. There’s just far too much infrastructure out there to keep tabs on, even without counting what can happen when someone makes a construction mistake.

Hamad should take responsibility, if not blame, and Quebec needs to seriously look at how it manages its highway infrastructure, through an inquiry if necessary. And inspection reports should be made public. They’ll probably show that there are overpasses, bridges and tunnels all over Quebec that are in a critical state. They’ll probably lead the media and motorists to panic, in some cases unnecessarily. But they’ll also show the full extent of the problem, and what a monumental task it will be to bring it all up to an acceptable level again.

And it’s a monumental task that Quebec will undertake half-assed, if at all. Because Quebecers want huge increases in spending on infrastructure maintenance. We just don’t want to pay for it.

CTV Montreal viewers overwhelmingly reject paying more for highway repairs

Well, we don’t care THAT much

It’s an unscientific poll, but I don’t think the 1,393 who responded to CTV Montreal’s TalkBack question are too far out of the mainstream. Quebecers want roads and bridges to be safe, but they don’t want to pay tolls or higher taxes to ensure this. They want the money to come out of nowhere. Maybe from education, or health care. Many probably think there’s a few billion in the budgets of the Office québécois de la langue française and Jean Charest’s salary as premier to fix it all up, or that once we eliminate corruption in construction contracts everything will balance out.

But really, just like the government, the transport department, and those engineers at NASA, Quebecers are willing to play the odds. If half a dozen people die once every five years or so because of a major infrastructure failure, that’s an acceptable loss, or at least not so outrageous that they’d consider paying a few cents more for gas or paying a few bucks to cross a bridge every day.

We’ll never admit it, of course. The Ville Marie tunnel collapse didn’t kill anyone, but we’re still all up in arms about it just because it could have. (The fact that this happened in the middle of summer when there isn’t much other news certainly contributes a bit.) Ask any regular Quebecer, and they’ll say there should be no risk, no gambling of anyone’s safety. They’ll say no injury is acceptable.

They’ll say infrastructure safety should be the government’s top priority, no question.

Well, except taxes. And health care, and education, and the economy. Those other “No. 1 priorities” will take up a larger part of everyone’s attention as the months and years go by without a major infrastructure failure. Those millions of extra dollars being shovelled into keeping our roads and bridges even more safe won’t be noticed by motorists, except when they see the traffic cones (which they will no doubt whine about). When the next round of across-the-board budget cuts comes around, the transport department and its team of inspectors won’t be immune, any more than health care and emergency services workers are.

And then, in a few years, when we see the next bridge collapse, the next tunnel cave in or the next sinkhole develop that either kills someone or looks like it could easily have done so, we’ll have this same debate all over again. We’ll all shift the blame around, demanding someone else be held accountable.

We certainly won’t look in the mirror, and realize that we’ve reached a subconscious pact with our government that allows them to roll the dice with our safety. Because despite what we say, our No. 1 priority isn’t infrastructure safety when we enter the voting booth. It’s sovereignty, or the personalities of the party leaders, or health care, or education, or immigration, or whatever big thing has most recently caught our attention.

Like our government, we’ll do a lot of talking about how unacceptable this all is. But when it comes time to put our money where our mouth is, we’ll suddenly become very silent.

P.S. I wonder who inspects the structures that hold up TV reporters so they can get a better backdrop while reporting on the tunnel collapse.

58 thoughts on “Rolling the dice on Quebec’s infrastructure

  1. Eric Arthur Blair

    I think we care. We care deeply. We are just overtaxed. So if they want to put the tolls back on the roads, roll back taxes in other places. Montreal’s taxes are too high and it’s just too badly run… we want the city to run it efficiently. We all see the city employees who fix a pot hole…. more employees than needed or pot holes that get marked off and not fixed for years. I can name a street in the Plateau where the city paid to repave the entire street and six months later they had to dig up big holes to repair water mains that burst, six months after that they had a pot hole that was over a meter wide. The planning is awful. The transparency is awful. The construction contracts are awful. No one takes responsibility. Look at the bridge that collapsed in Israel…. five people ended up in jail. So, who’s in jail and taking responsibility for the de Souvenir overpass failure? Yup… no one!

    Let’s start asking questions… why do we have so many Ministry of Education employees (compare us to Norway) and yet we can’t turn out a translation effectively? We even have quasi-government companies doing some of the work. Why is voc ed being run by the same people that can’t run an elementary and secondary school properly? Why do we over run budgets on signed contracts? Why can’t we do this properly? How about the Plateau’s “green space” in front of the church…. didn’t have the budget to make it part of the park last year. So, is it done this year or did they just upset all the retired people for no reason at all? Instead of taxing and more taxing, how about looking at how we can be more efficient with the money. My first suggestions? Start with people starting to take some responsibility… and then cut down on the number of city councilors. I wonder how well a city would be run if all documents were public except for the amounts…. nothing to hide, the citizens know EVERYTHING. Scary or the future?

    Reply
  2. Shawn

    Remove the graft, remove the corruption, and perhaps the truth will be revealed. When an individual takes responsibility or is held responsible we may start seeing the end of the pass the buck approach. In the meanwhile each body of government that is responsible for maintaining the roads are pointing fingers elsewhere. -It wasn’t me it was the guy I hired.- I am held accountable for my employees actions while they are on the job.

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  3. Andrew

    Amen! Thank you for the unblinking look at our failing infrastructure. Prof Mirza at McGill has been sounding this trumpet for years, yet after the big crisis fades away, his legitimate concerns keep falling on deaf ears. See: http://www.regionomics.com/infra/Draft-July03.pdf If we wish to keep our infrastructure intact, we must be willing to pay for it, or I fear that these type of collapses will become ever more common.

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  4. AlexH

    Ahh, this is one of those topics that could go on forever. But let me start with a few simple things:

    1 – Why the heck is removing a couple of extra inches of material enough to make the structure collapse? Was that entire mega tonnage of a sun shade held up by a thin, 2 inch lip? What the heck is going on when engineers thing that holding this stuff above our heads with the minimum of support is a good idea? These guys didn’t take out too much material, there wasn’t enough material to start with. It’s a disgrace to think that this is an acceptable way to build anything.

    2 – Why are we hanging heavy concrete that will crumble (it all does), when the same effect could have been made with a lightweight grill in metal, maybe even fiberglass or similar? It seems an incredibly stupid thing to be sticking tons of concrete over our heads for no real reason. Kickbacks from the concrete companies at the time?

    3 – How amusing to see Gerald Tremblay scrambling around trying to sucker the government into raising taxes and letting him pile another gas tax on to pay for this stuff. Is this guy for real?

    Now the longer part: Why are we here?

    One of the amazing things about government is that money doesn’t grow on trees. When you want to do X, Y, and Z, and only have enough money for one of them you cut the other. In Quebec, X is what you needed to do, and Y is what will make you popular with the electorate and keep you in government a long time. Z is even worse, it’s all that stuff that has been done to needlessly duplicate Federal services, to “promote” the french language, and to effectively run Quebec as a country inside a country for the last 35 years.

    What was needed to be done was to build the roads wisely, maintain them regularly, and expand them as needed to meet demand and keep them from being over worked. That didn’t happen. We still have the same size roads (number of lanes) that we have 30 years ago, with significant increased in traffic. So we know the money didn’t go into maintaining and improving the road network.

    So where did it go? Well, let’s see. We have incredibly cheap CEGEP and university tuition. We have cheap daycare. We have more government agencies, ministries, regies, and other bureaucratic crap than anywhere on earth. We have piles of money wasted on promoting the French language and chasing business out of the province, and an even bigger pot of money wasted giving grants, subventions, and tax freebies to companies to get them to come back – and most of them take the money and run for the border anyway. We have non-functional municipal mergers, mega projects that just don’t get completed, and perhaps some of the most obstructionist people at the various levels of government making it impossible to get things done. We have pet projects like Bixi sucking up the money while the roads erode in front of our eyes. It’s shocking all around.

    Today’s problems aren’t a result of today’s choices, they are a result of the choices made 30 years ago that nobody has the balls to fix. We don’t have the money to fix it now, we won’t have the money to fix it now, and we won’t have the money in the future either, at least not without major changes in the “social contract” (or some would call it the socialist nightmare of Quebec) we live under. We are more likely to grow horns in the middle of our heads than have that happen.

    I hold out a special award for Mayor Tremblay, possibly one of the most obstructionist, and opportunistic bottom feeders I have ever seen in politics. Gerald, you are fast to get up and moan and whine, yet every major auto mobile related project that has crossed your desk has either been shelved or run so far through the wringer that nobody knows which end is up. How is Notre Dame east coming along? You know, that project that you have been killing every time it comes up by insisting that it has to be some sort of slow moving urban boulevard, rather than the highway it needs to be? How is the Turcotte project, you know, the one you keep trying to hack lanes of traffic out of, the one you keep trying to obstruct the flow of commerce on? You know, the one that won’t get done until most of us here are retired? How about the Dorval Circle thing? I can see your thumbs getting in this one too, dragging the project out another 4 or 5 years, likely because you want another extra bus lane to nowhere out there. Oh yeah, not to worry, you will just beg Quebec to slam another 10 cents a liter on gas to pay for it. How incredibly short sighted can you be?

    Then in the middle of the current crisis, you pop up like a bad smell asking for more taxation to fix the roads. Sir, stop financing a bike company and start fixing the damn roads. Stop building new stuff and maintain what you have. Drop your pet project of the month and fill in the damn potholes that are so big and so prevalent that some of them merit protection from the historical board, they have been around so long. Your own poor management and obstructionist style causes the problems, quit trying to pawn it of on everyone else’s back. Get back to work and quit dreaming up pie in the sky stuff. Get a shovel, and get to work.

    Until you (and all your friends through the Quebec Governments, plural / successive) come to understand that we are not cows to milk or sheep to sheer, things won’t get better. You cannot fix your mistakes by forcing us to pay more money. You have reached the end of the road. There is no more money. Deal with it.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      2 – Why are we hanging heavy concrete that will crumble (it all does), when the same effect could have been made with a lightweight grill in metal, maybe even fiberglass or similar?

      It’s a good question. The two westbound paralumes use a much thinner (and, one assumes, lightweight) grid material than the two eastbound ones. I don’t know why this is.

      Why the heck is removing a couple of extra inches of material enough to make the structure collapse? Was that entire mega tonnage of a sun shade held up by a thin, 2 inch lip?

      It looks as though this is the case. Having a design like this (a beam resting on a lip) isn’t incredibly unusual, and in most cases it’s perfectly sound, so long as the lip is able to support the beam. Whether two inches is enough of a safety margin is a good question.

      We still have the same size roads (number of lanes) that we have 30 years ago, with significant increased in traffic. So we know the money didn’t go into maintaining and improving the road network.

      That’s a ridiculous argument. Clearly the road network is being maintained, and new roads and highways are being built all the time. Expanding something like the Ville-Marie Expressway by an extra lane might sound like a good idea to a short-sighted driver, but (a) there’s no space to do so, and (b) it would just increase the amount of traffic pouring into already congested downtown roads.

      How is Notre Dame east coming along? … How is the Turcotte project … How about the Dorval Circle thing?

      The Turcot and Dorval interchange work are provincial, not municipal, jurisdictions. The Notre Dame East project is a joint venture of the provincial and municipal governments. Gérald Tremblay only has so much say on them.

      Reply
      1. AlexH

        “Clearly the road network is being maintained, and new roads and highways are being built all the time”

        The facts just don’t bare this out. The roads aren’t maintained (otherwise we wouldn’t be in this situation now where bridges, highways, and surface streets are all in ruins). More importantly, it isn’t a question of ” Expanding something like the Ville-Marie Expressway by an extra lane”, but perhaps addressing the issues of the Metropolitian (we get 3 lanes each way and useless service roads… 401 through Toronto is 4+3 in each direction). Mayor Bike wants to cut the Bonaventure back and replace it with surface streets, and I am sure he would love to get rid of the 720 altogether if he could find a way!

        “The Turcot and Dorval interchange work are provincial, not municipal, jurisdictions. ”

        Incorrect. The Dorval project in particular is late because there are too many different levels of government and agencies involved, from the airport authorities to the train people, the MTQ, Dorval city officials, and Montreal people as well. They all have a finger in it, and that is why it is delayed, and why they are arguing about who will pay for overruns: http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Stories+conflict+Dorval+Circle+soaring+cost/5202056/story.html

        As for Turcot, well, we all know the back and forth on that one. Just like Notre Dame Est, the Mayor is being Mr Obstructionist, complaining that there is too much potential for traffic (aka people actually getting where they want to go), and he keeps submitting counter proposals and blocking things. If Turcot wasn’t in the process of falling down, they would likely still be arguing over how many bus lanes are needed, and how many tramways will be run.

        It is part of the problem: The work that should be only provincial is now multi jurisdictional. The MTQ should have built the Turcot it wanted and left the city to do whatever it wanted after the road was made. Instead, the city is the one dictating how our highways will be built, and since Tremblay doesn’t like cars (but he rides in a limo to work, I am told), there are fewer lanes, attempts to limit the cars entering the city, and generally obstructing everything that is going on. This of course face to NOT fixing Notre Dame Est, so there is no alternate route into the city.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          Expanding something like the Ville-Marie Expressway by an extra lane”, but perhaps addressing the issues of the Metropolitian (we get 3 lanes each way and useless service roads… 401 through Toronto is 4+3 in each direction).

          Ah yes, good thing that solved the Toronto traffic problem.

          The Dorval project in particular is late because there are too many different levels of government and agencies involved, from the airport authorities to the train people, the MTQ, Dorval city officials, and Montreal people as well.

          You’re right. It’s led by Transport Quebec, but Montreal is involved. Still, Gérald Tremblay isn’t running the project, and I see no evidence he’s personally responsible for either its delay or its cost.

          Just like Notre Dame Est, the Mayor is being Mr Obstructionist, complaining that there is too much potential for traffic (aka people actually getting where they want to go), and he keeps submitting counter proposals and blocking things.

          The problem with increased traffic isn’t that people get to where they want to go, it’s that people think it’s easier to get to where they want to go and instead of clogging up the Turcot they’ll clog up downtown streets or make the 20/13 merge even worse. And Tremblay’s proposals are just that. He has no power here, so the province has for the most part ignored him.

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          1. Kevin

            The problem with Toronto is that there are no geographical constraints on sprawl: vancouver has mountains, we have rivers. Toronto has farmland that provincial and municipal govts are more than happy to build on.
            People like to complain but you can drive from Oakville to Pickering in a reasonable amount of time.
            In Montreal on the 40, the bumper to bumper jam starts at Ikea and goes until Papineau. On a Tuesday at 2.30 pm.
            Why? Because there is literally no other way for trucks to get around. Montreal needs that ring road.

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        2. MB

          AlexH wrote “The facts just don’t bare this out.”

          Um, yes they do. It’s called induced demand, and it’s a non-controversial phenomenon that happens virtually every time you increase capacity on an urban expressway. That’s why most places have stopped doing this and are only building new roads or small expansions in the periphery.

          AlexH wrote “The roads aren’t maintained (otherwise we wouldn’t be in this situation now where bridges, highways, and surface streets are all in ruins).”

          Hyperbole.

          AlexH wrote “More importantly, it isn’t a question of ” Expanding something like the Ville-Marie Expressway by an extra lane”, but perhaps addressing the issues of the Metropolitian (we get 3 lanes each way and useless service roads… 401 through Toronto is 4+3 in each direction).”

          I’ll echo Steve’s reply: Toronto still faces severe congestion, and they have several million more people than Montreal in the suburban automobile slums surrounding the city. They could add another six lanes and there would still be congestion, and it would probably propel development even further from the city centre. This happens in every other city with limited access expressways networks. Highway expansion is not a sustainable practice. Expanding them increases congestion.

          There isn’t exactly tons of space around the Metropolitan, either. Those service roads might be useless for YOU, but they are necessary parts of the transportation infrastructure.

          “Mayor Bike wants to cut the Bonaventure back and replace it with surface streets, and I am sure he would love to get rid of the 720 altogether if he could find a way!”

          Bixi is about providing infrastructure for alternative forms of transportation, and requires pedestrians and motorists to share some space. Would you prefer all those bikers drive cars instead? What would that do for congestion? Relieving congestion involves either getting people off the roads or encouraging them to take up less space on the roads, not making the roads bigger.

          Regarding the removal of the Bonaventure, similar projects been achieved in several cities around the world without headache, and often with desirable effects on adjacent neighborhoods (and their property values). These are cities with congestion equal to or worse than Montreal. The Central Freeway and the Embarcadero in San Francisco, the Cheonggycheon highway in Seoul, and Harbor Drive in Portland, Oregon, immediately come to mind. The Central Artery in Boston would probably have been torn down with or without the Big Dig; Seattle is considering similar plans with the Alaskan Way. The so-called “carmaggedon” that was recently predicted in Los Angeles due to the Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project never materialized…and not coincidentally, Metrolink recorded its highest ever weekend ridership.

          Notice any themes here?

          You’d think after decades of ruining our cities and increasing congestion with ever more vast roadways people would start to realize that it’s not the answer to congestion that we thought it would be in 1950. Some of these motorists seem content to watch the entire city turn to dust and parking lots around them before they stop to think beyond their windshield.

          Now…back to these beguiling issues that Steve has raised with this post…

          Reply
          1. AlexH

            “Would you prefer all those bikers drive cars instead?”

            it has been proven already that the vast majority of the people on Bixi bikes would have been on the metro, buses, or walking on the sidewalk (even discussed on this site in the past). If you take away Bixi, you will only increase the number of people on the sidewalks or buses, not the number of cars. The cars aren’t coming from in town to in town locations, those people were already well served by bus and metro. The cars come from the burbs and such. That’s why where is traffic on the metropolitain and the bridges, and why Bixi doesn’t do a damn thing to fix it.

            As for your examples of removed roads, there are differences in every case. One of the keys is population density. Just ripping up the roads and expecting everyone to move to public transit would be a failure, especially in our culture here. Make it harder to get into downtown Montreal, and downtown will move. 10-30 anyone? Downtown Laval? If you make it harder to do business downtown, the business over time will move. When you make downtown harder to reach, you create urbanization and commercial sprawl. We don’t have the population density to make public transit work out well, which is a common problem we have with Toronto. It’s still cheaper and easier to build OUT than it is to build UP. Adding all the bixi bikes in the universe won’t change that, nobody is going to bike in from Laval to downtown in January. Those are the people who are coming downtown to work.

            Positive moves (extending the Metro into Laval) do make a difference. But denying reality (people will move to the burb) won’t fix the problem. As long as Mayor Bike is in charge, we will see continued denial of reality. All this of course in a city that massively restricts the size of residential buildings, making it hard to reach reasonable density.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              If you make it harder to do business downtown, the business over time will move.

              Any business that’s fully dependent on cars has already moved out of downtown. Big box stores, for example. Downtown businesses are those that rely more on foot traffic. No policy is going to change that. We’re never going to have a fast food restaurant surrounded by a vast free parking lot downtown.

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          2. AlexH

            Steve, I don’t claim that “car dependant” business are in downtown. That is not the point at all. Nobody is expecting “vast parking lots around a fast food place” downtown, but at the same time, we aren’t expecting the city to work so hard to discourage people from coming downtown in the first place.

            But let’s try not to deny the obvious. Look out of your office window, and what do you see downtown? Cars. Why? It’s still the most effective way for most people to get from point A to point B. Even with all the public transit, all the bixi bikes, and all the nasty road blockages and obstructionist traffic patterns, a car is still the best choice for many.

            So now, we can continue to deny this, and pretend that somehow bixi bikes and sweltering buses are somehow going to fix everything, or we can look again and try to spot the root of the problems.

            What ends up happening is that business relocate to where people can get to them. All people, not just bus and metro riders. So you see companies setting up shop outside of the downtown core. When you have unlimited space (think Toronto area), you end up with 8-10 story office towers spread all over the place, surrounded by parking lots. Why? Because it is what the people want. Business owners don’t want to have their employees stuck in traffic for 3 hours to make it to the core of the city, and the same staff won’t travel on public transit to get down there.

            What ends up happening is the downtown core of cities don’t expand rapidly anymore, and the growth happens outside of the city. New centers pop up as businesses look for cost efficient, time efficient places to operate from.

            If you want the downtown core to grow, you have to work to make it accessible, useful, and meaningful to people. If you want them to take public transit, you have to make that public transit offering so good, so enticing, that it is preferable to taking the car. You don’t do that by hobbling the car option until the public transit looks better by comparison, you work to make the transit option better. You building parking away from the city to encourage people to take the metro / train / bus. You make those public transit vehicles as comfortable as possible, you make them light, airy, and inviting.

            You get better result with sugar than you do with shit. What Mayor Bike has done is trying to pile up the shit to make car driving undesirable. Too bad there is no sugar on the other side.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              Look out of your office window, and what do you see downtown? Cars.

              Actually, I see far more pedestrians than I do cars. And lots of birds too.

              Business owners don’t want to have their employees stuck in traffic for 3 hours to make it to the core of the city, and the same staff won’t travel on public transit to get down there.

              Business owners don’t care how their employees get to work. The clock starts when they get to their job. And businesses are located where it’s best for business, not where it’s easiest for employees. For some (like grocery stores), that means strip malls with big parking lots. For others, it means downtown where all the people are.

              Despite how difficult traffic is downtown, it’s hardly an economic wasteland. So I don’t see much incentive for making downtown less like downtown.

              Reply
          3. AlexH

            I am not suggesting to make downtown less like downtown, where do you get that from? I am just looking for solutions that let the current assets be used better, and to work to allow for better flow of people in and out of the city. It’s a quality of life issue for everyone involved. Solutions for one side should not come at the expense of the other. They are all users of the city, and they all need access, provided as best possible.

            You need only to drive a little while around the city to understand that the roads are poorly maintained, that traffic lights appear to be either intentionally poorly timed or just tossed up in a random way that is non-functional. I can point you out areas around the city where poor traffic light management creates the sort of gridlock that nobody wants or needs. I can show you the mismanagement of the road network that leads to more pollution, more congestion, and more aggravation for all users.

            Let me give you a good example. On St Catherine heading east from the Bay, for two plus weeks the intersection at Bleury was closed. So cars were being routed down St Alexandre and around on Rene Levesque. But there are a few problems here. There is parking on one side of St Alexandre, which normally during a detour would be marked “reserved” and used to double the roads use. But at the top there is a 4 space Bixi Rack blocking turns (making it hard for any truck to even turn the corner) and at the south end is a reserved taxi zone that the taxi drivers kept using. So you have two lanes of St Catherine traffic, sent down a 1 lane street, which is full of potholes, down to a traffic light that is set up mostly to allow people to cross the road from north to south walking. The result is that only a handful of cars can turn left onto Rene Levesque at each cycle, and because St Alexandre is a one way north on the other side, you cannot even go straight down either.

            The result? gridlock back onto St Catherine, long delays, increased pollution, etc. The traffic light at RL and St Alexandre could have been temporarily adjusted to allow for a few more cars per cycle to turn, resolving much of the issue, the bixi rack (which should have been located on St Alexandre NORTH of St Catherine, where there is less traffic) should have been relocated, and the Taxi parking shut down for that period. Nothing was done. Traffic was created where there was no reason to have it.

            When Mayor Bike was put on the “traffic” committee, I almost choked. His policies are directly responsible for more traffic. Why would you want someone in charge who is busy adding to the pollution in the city?

            Reply
    2. Olivier

      Hm.

      I wouldn’t call it a “subconscious” pact to roll the dice. The pact was very conscious: reach deficit-0 in the 90′s and then cut income taxes as much as possible. Both the PQ and PLQ happily obliged. That makes for a 15 years window where nothing gets done because every public expense is seen as excessive. Politicians are first in line to portray it that way; I mean, this fella Sam Hamad is part of a government who has presided over the complete dismantling of the Transport ministry’s ability to oversee and plan public work, forking the whole contracts to big engineering firms such as SNC/Lavalin. And they do so because we are all obsessed with “paying too much taxes”.

      I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

      @AlexH: At least a part of this is because of the mergers and the separatists? Gimme a break.

      Reply
      1. AlexH

        When you spend the money on one thing, you can’t spend it on something else. When the Quebec Government (led by the seperatists of the day) chose to duplicate federal services rather than using the already acceptable Canadian services, we end up paying for things twice. That is money that could go to fix the roads, but instead goes towards the noble goal of turning Quebec into the only banana republic in the northern hemisphere.

        When money is spent to enforce draconian language laws, and then more money is spent to try to attract businesses that won’t come to Quebec normally because of those same language laws and the high taxes, there isn’t money to fix the roads. That is hundreds of millions that could have been spent on the roads in the 80s and 90s, that were instead spent on supporting an artificial situation.

        When money is given to Universities, and they are forced to keep tuitions insanely low, that money could have been spent on the roads. Instead, it was spent making Quebec the lowest cost place to get a degree, and filled the schools with students from all over the world – who promptly leave once they get their degrees.

        When money is spent to merge municipalities, and then still maintain all the trappings of the originals, that money could have been spent fixing the roads. Instead, it was spent to expand the number of people working in municipal government, expand the total numbers of elected and non-elected officials, and to create even more red tape.

        What would have cost hundreds of millions 20 years ago is costing us billions today. Successive governments have made choices that were short sighted, the ultimate in bread and circuses for the masses. Now financially the government’s hands are tied, but all the bills are due and all the infrastructure has rotted away. Oh yes, we have a wonderful place du festivals, but less than 3 blocks away the streets are in a condition that would make the third world proud. It’s all in the choices, it’s where the money gets spent. Too bad we just can’t get things right.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          Instead, it was spent making Quebec the lowest cost place to get a degree, and filled the schools with students from all over the world – who promptly leave once they get their degrees.

          International students pay the cost of their education in Quebec universities. The government doesn’t subsidize international or even out-of-province students anywhere near what they do Quebec students. And not all people who come to Quebec to study leave as soon as they get their degrees.

          Reply
    3. j2

      > What the heck is going on when engineers thing that holding this stuff above our heads with the minimum of support is a good idea?

      Engineers don’t. Engineers have a code of ethics as well as a professional organization that is the equivalent of malpractice for doctors that doesn’t permit them to design things that aren’t safe. This doesn’t prevent politicians or bureaucracies or contracting companies from interfering.

      This isn’t an engineering problem.

      (Full disclosure: I have a Bachelor’s in (non-Civil) engineering.)

      Reply
  5. Marc

    Sadly, many in government and the obese bureaucracy do think money grows on trees. At all levels, governments don’t have revenue problems, they have spending problems. We spend hundreds and hundreds of millions on the Transport dept. and where is the money going? Even more offensive and insulting is their staunch refusal to release inspection reports saying we’re too stupid to interpret them, or have them interpreted by someone in the know. Has nothing been learned from the 2006 collapse in Laval where PEOPLE DIED?

    Reply
  6. Kevin

    The reason people don’t want to pay more dedicated tolls or taxes is because we *already* do so — and there is no clear indication these funds actually go to where they are supposed to go.

    In fact, given the sheer amount of construction that has taken place in Quebec since the Concorde Collapse, it is evident that the money has gone into general revenues for decades instead of into roadwork.

    Second, everyone and their brother can point to a staggering amount of waste in all three levels of government. Montreal has more city councillors than New York City and Toronto *combined*. We have 125 MNAs in Quebec City — many who represent ridings with fewer people than your average West Island suburb.

    Don’t forget the stupidity caused by the complete lack of coordination and half-assed measures made when it comes to roadwork. On my street, the ‘patch machine’ comes down once a month to ineptly fill about a third of the holes while ignoring the rest. EVERY MONTH this happens.
    What ever happened to doing the job right?

    Then the various levels of government pull bullshit like dedicating 200 million to an arena, spending 108 million “loaning” money to a bike rental company that only convinces people to leave their own bikes at home in favour of riding the most expensive bikes in the world, and throwing millions of our money around like it’s water.

    The problem is not the money — it’s the management. Quebec needs an overhaul.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      … spending 108 million “loaning” money to a bike rental company that only convinces people to leave their own bikes at home in favour of riding the most expensive bikes in the world…

      The $108 million is not a loan. Most of it is a loan guarantee, which means the actual money is not coming from the city. And the rest replaces the original loan that was given by Stationnement de Montréal. I know people like to make Bixi out to be the bad guy, but the program is actually profitable, and thousands of Montrealers pay money to use it.

      Reply
      1. Fassero

        I’m not sure that’s a way to summarize it. Montreal did provide $37 million in cold cash to fund Bixi’s deficit (and might have to continue to fund deficits in the future because Bixi’s parent company is non-profit and cannot maintain operating losses.) The other $71 million is, yes, just a loan guarantee but remember – the guarantee puts Montreal on the hook for the amount, or whatever is left, if the company winds up in default. In Montreal, it also gets a huge break in that, because it at the moment controlled by the SDM, it is not required to compensate the city for all the street spots that the bikes take up (unlike, say, Communauto.) The fact that is “profitable” doesn’t exactly mean much yet because it operating profit excludes debt servicing costs which are i) big; and ii) getting bigger as tries to expand the product to other market (which is what the guaranteed amount was basically going for in terms of expansion to …. Toronto and Ottawa I think it was.) Of course, the even bigger problem with Bixi right now is that it’s hard to truly understand what risks are involved for Montreal taxpayers since a lot of details of the arrangement aren’t even committed to paper as the Auditor pointed out.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          The other $71 million is, yes, just a loan guarantee but remember – the guarantee puts Montreal on the hook for the amount, or whatever is left, if the company winds up in default.

          This is true. But for that to happen, big cities like Toronto and London would have to default on their debt for the bikes they’ve already bought. I don’t see that as being particularly likely.

          Bixi has problems – particularly with transparency and ownership structure – but to suggest that the $108 million financing package is the equivalent to a handout just isn’t true. The city still expects to get all its money back, which can’t be said for public transit or road construction.

          Reply
      2. Kevin

        http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/07/20/trouble-in-bixiland/
        The AG disagrees about the profitability of Bixi. I know thousands pay to use it, but I have yet to come across anyone who uses Bixi who doesn’t already have a bike.
        But Bixi isn’t really the problem here: it’s a symptom, an aftermath of interventionist thinking that Quebec is prone to.
        For the cost to create and maintain Bixi we could have bought 10x as many bikes and just scattered them unlocked at racks everywhere for use by everyone. Instead we have people spending cash to bike downhill and have someone drive the bike back to the top while they take the bus or metro home.

        I ask the question: why did the city get into this anyway? It’s a job for a community group, not the city that has difficulty paving roads and delivering fresh water.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          The AG disagrees about the profitability of Bixi.

          Not really. But Bixi is currently profitable only because of export sales, and hasn’t yet broken even locally. That was, I might add, part of the plan when Bixi was setup.

          I know thousands pay to use it, but I have yet to come across anyone who uses Bixi who doesn’t already have a bike.

          Clearly those people find a use for a system that costs them $78 a year. And don’t most people in general already have a bike?

          For the cost to create and maintain Bixi we could have bought 10x as many bikes and just scattered them unlocked at racks everywhere for use by everyone.

          Sure. And that would be better how? Those bikes would disappear and/or be damaged in no time. Bixis are expensive because they’re built like tanks.

          It’s like arguing that for the price of a bus you could give 10 people their own car. That doesn’t really accomplish anything.

          Instead we have people spending cash to bike downhill and have someone drive the bike back to the top while they take the bus or metro home.

          Actually, people tend to take public transit into work and Bixi home. Uphill/downhill doesn’t make much of a difference here. And if the people are spending their cash on this system because it works for them, what’s the problem?

          I ask the question: why did the city get into this anyway? It’s a job for a community group, not the city that has difficulty paving roads and delivering fresh water.

          It’s basically Gérald Tremblay’s legacy project. That doesn’t make it a bad thing necessarily. Yes, it’s one of those sexy projects that gets a lot of attention, but it’s still a good idea.

          And I haven’t had any trouble getting fresh water into my home.

          Reply
          1. Kevin

            [quote]It’s basically Gérald Tremblay’s legacy project. That doesn’t make it a bad thing necessarily. Yes, it’s one of those sexy projects that gets a lot of attention, but it’s still a good idea.

            And I haven’t had any trouble getting fresh water into my home.[/quote]

            Most bixiers I know ride downhill or cross-town, then take a bus or metro back home.
            I do not pay taxes so mayors can create legacy projects. I pay taxes to provide a certain required level of services that includes being able to get around town in a safe manner.

            And while you may not have problems getting fresh water, the city certainly has problems delivering. We have repeatedly seen stories about massive craters in city streets — caused by leaking pipes underground washing away the foundations for our roads. Water mains break every week in Montreal. Given we have limited funds, I would rather have proper running water and bike lanes instead of rotting pipes and a multi-million dollar government-operated bicycle rental program.
            After all, if a private company can successfully rent out CARS on an hourly basis, why can’t someone do the same for bicycles.

            Reply
          2. AlexH

            You have to wonder though – if Bixi isn’t profitable locally, why would it be profitable in any other locality? Is this some sort of ponzi scheme, where you keep getting cities suckered into buying into an unprofitable system, so the money can be used to pay off the ones that got there earlier? It seems weird. Bixi should be profitable, but it is not. Apparently it isn’t as popular as it could be, and just as importantly, this is all done without paying it’s true costs (how much parking revenue is lost each day to bixi racks?).

            Net, it’s a losing idea, good for only 6 months a year, and creates more pollution (lugging them bikes back up the hill, leaving the trucks running as they do the work), and more traffic chaos (dodging them trucks, and having to deal with hundreds fewer parking spaces in the city all summer long).

            Bixi is pretty hard to justify as a business, it can only be justified by Mayor Bike.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              Bixi should be profitable, but it is not.

              Actually, Bixi is nonprofit, so it should break even. And it’s not yet because it has reached only 80% of its membership goal in three years and hasn’t yet paid off its startup costs. This was all planned when Bixi was launched. No major new project is going to make money in its first year.

              how much parking revenue is lost each day to bixi racks?

              I don’t think there’s an exact figure for how many paid parking spots are taken up by Bixi stations. Many stations downtown are on the sidewalk, and many stations further away take over non-paid parking. But if we conservatively estimate about 200, multiplied by the average revenue from a metered space for April to November, you could come up with a figure.

              But is maximizing parking meter revenue really the goal here?

              Bixi is pretty hard to justify as a business

              Except that it’s one that has 40,000 paying customers, and growing.

              Reply
          3. AlexH

            Steve, if 40,000 paid users isn’t enough for the system to break even (or for that matter even finance itself), it’s a horrible business model. Non-profit doesn’t make “shouldn’t pay for itself”. Bixi in year three, especially with all the freebies, support, and free cross marketing it gets should be paying for itself. It is not. Oh yeah, I wonder how many of those 40,000 are actually bus pass users who are effectively getting a freebie? I wonder how much that marketing it worth?

            200 parking spots, at $2 an hour, used 25% of the day (to allow for the parking on paid 50% of the time, not overnight, and then 50% occupancy), means $12 a day per space, or $2400 a day in lost revenue. Given the run time on bixi in the spring to fall, it round out about half a million of lost revenue. Considering that Bixi isn’t breaking even without paying for this stuff, I would hate to imagine how bad things would be if they actually had to pay for what they use.

            The goal isn’t maximizing parking revenue, the goal is making the city usable for all of the citizens, not just a small minority riding bixi bikes. Since we know that bixi bikes mostly converted bus riders and walkers into bike riders, shouldn’t the stands be on the sidewalks, in metro entrances, and perhaps uprooting a few bus stops rather than taking away from car traffic? After all, it isn’t like people are suddenly leaving their cars at home to bixi in from Laval, is it?

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              Steve, if 40,000 paid users isn’t enough for the system to break even (or for that matter even finance itself), it’s a horrible business model.

              If you say so, but that’s the business model the city bought into when it setup Bixi.

              Bixi in year three, especially with all the freebies, support, and free cross marketing it gets should be paying for itself. It is not.

              Again, the original plan was that Bixi would take a few years to break even, as would any business with such large capital expenditures. If you feel it should have made money by now, that’s your opinion, but it’s not inconsistent with the original plan.

              Oh yeah, I wonder how many of those 40,000 are actually bus pass users who are effectively getting a freebie?

              Bus pass users don’t get freebies. Those who sign up for an Opus yearly subscription get a heavy discount on Bixi thanks to a deal with the STM. It’s a significant discount, but hardly a freebie.

              Bixi’s financial statement shows a subscription revenue of just over $3 million (the previous year it was less than $2 million). That figure isn’t split between monthly/yearly subscriptions and people who come up to the machines and swipe their credit cards. But I’d say it’s a clear indication that Montrealers aren’t just relying on “freebies” to use the service.

              Since we know that bixi bikes mostly converted bus riders and walkers into bike riders, shouldn’t the stands be on the sidewalks, in metro entrances, and perhaps uprooting a few bus stops rather than taking away from car traffic?

              Many stations are on sidewalks or metro entrances, particularly downtown. Others are on the street because there’s no room on the sidewalks. And Bixis represent “a small minority” of people, but also a small minority of parking spaces.

              Reply
          4. AlexH

            The numbers just don’t add up.

            Yearly membership is $78. Any use over 45 minutes in a row runs the clock. Short time users (like tourists) are paying $5 a day plus usage over 45 minutes. There is advertising on every bike this year, sponsorship.

            3 million, divided by 40,000 is $75 per user NET money.

            Simple math says there is some truly incredibly levels of discounting going on. Allowing for even a small amount of income from sponsorships (say half a million for the whole year) that brings the total income per user down to $62.50.

            I am not easily able to find data on what percentage of “users” are single use or short term tourist users (who shouldn’t be considered subscribers, because they are only short term users), but they would also represent a certain amount of income decrease.

            It would appear that the average “subscriber” is paying about 33% less than the posted price.

            Now, add to that a system that is losing still about 7 million a year (supported only by outside sales of Bixi systems), and you can see the problem. One issue is that it is doubtful that other cities are going to be any more profitable if they are operating under the same conditions as Montreal, which makes the long term viablity of a “sell it to everyone else” model, when cities start to realize they can’t make money on renting bikes. Further, if users were actually asked to pay what it costs to operate the system in Montreal, based on current numbers, it would take something like 150,000 full paying subscribers to truly break even. That would mean that pretty much every household in the service areas would have to be subscibed. That just seems doubtful.

            Something isn’t adding up. Steve, do you have an ideas on this?

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              3 million, divided by 40,000 is $75 per user NET money.

              Except that the 40,000 members doesn’t include people who buy one-day or three-day passes using their credit cards. So it’s actually $3 million minus X divided by 40,000, where X is the revenue from non-members.

              Allowing for even a small amount of income from sponsorships (say half a million for the whole year) that brings the total income per user down to $62.50.

              Sponsorship revenue (about $250,000) is counted separately from the $3 million in the budget.

              Reply
          5. AlexH

            “Except that the 40,000 members doesn’t include people who buy one-day or three-day passes using their credit cards. So it’s actually $3 million minus X divided by 40,000, where X is the revenue from non-members.”

            So that makes it even worse in many ways. I haven’t seen a breakdown between yearly members and short term users, but you are still looking at net user cost per year that is signficantly lower than the posted price, which suggests discounting is a significant part of the model. That 3 million is still a losing number, and even with the income from sales to other cities, the system is still losing money. Based on what you can see Steve, how many people would have to be members of Bixi for it to break even at it’s current levels? I am thinking somewhere around 150,000. Based on current growth (and assuming the market isn’t saturated already), it will take something like 10 years to get to a break even level.

            Non-profit indeed!

            Reply
  7. Fassero

    The problem with the fallen beam is the timing. Given all whole pile of bridge lane closures, highway lane closures, and road closures, it’s part of the “perfect storm” (and the completely dysfunctional “transparency” in actually informing the public of these things) that has been brewing, especially this summer. If it fell in, say, the winter of 1999, the whole issue would have passed over in about a month.

    I think it’s been alluded to but I don’t think there is a taxpayer attitude that somebody needs to fix it but I don’t want to pay for it. What’s really happening is that you have people in the highest taxed jurisdiction in North America saying “for what we are all paying, why IS this still happening?!?!” Same case for healthcare. Same for education. Heck, same for public transit.

    The big problem is that governments constantly throw out tax hikes and fees saying it’s going to all these things. It’s not. It always ends up in “general revenue”, the bulk of which gets tied up in bureaucracy and overpriced voter-targeted megaprojects. Specific to Montreal, I don’t think the problem is rooted in Hamad (although the fact that he’s a trained engineer of all things doesn’t help) – it’s more like there’s a general malaise within the MTQ (and provincial politics itself) that basically treats Montreal as more of an afterthought – the city that mostly bankrolls the province and gives political parties monies that it prioritizes for rural areas that translate into seats. Having the Village Idiot as Mayor of that city helps (and the scary part is he’s best by default versus the alternatives.) Tremblay likes tolls now? Funny – he’s was railing against them a couple of years ago, opting to push or higher municipal gas taxes to fund public transit (which he got. Whether it’s actually accomplished anything is a whole other debate.)

    CTV framed the question wrong. Had it read something like “Would you support tolls to exclusively finance road construction, infrastructure, and maintenance in exchange for removing all gas and other taxes supposedly deployed to fund all these?” and I would bet the farm the results would have done a complete reverse. At the same time (Mr. Tremblay – please pay attention), there should absolutely be no problem whatsoever with having tolls at all bridges and major highway points into Montreal, with the city and province sharing in the net revenues. That “it will clog streets” counter-argument is, as the Brits would say, bollocks. You put a system that controls flow AND, most importantly, has drivers get from point A to point B faster, they’ll be all too happy to pay – case in point: the 407 highway in Ontario. The leftist media outlets there bitch about toll hikes from the private consortium that runs it, but car drivers use it in droves (mind you, the big bitcher is the Toronto Star and the fact that their distribution facility lies right on it I’m sure, nudge nudge wink wink, is just a coincidence.) The worst that will happen is it will reverse Montrealers migrating to suburbs and exurbs. Many an islander, with no language line at all, would undoubtedly be able to live with this.

    Ville-Marie? Bury the whole friggin’ thing underground and charge tolls at each end to finance it. There’s your downtown development, Mr. Mayor! Champlain bridge? Federally-owned. No problem. Toll it and you can rebuild the whole freakin’ thing yesterday. Heck, put ticket infractions on highways right into highway funding. It shouldn’t matter if it’s private, public, or a combination of the two. Drivers will have no problem with self-funding even if it that includes user fees as long as they take the billions of dollars just tossed into a sinkhole instead of where it was intended out of their tax bills. Those who can’t keep up with those fees – Monsieur ou Madame, here’s the bus/train/bicycle. Have a nice day.

    Reply
    1. Adam

      “Those who can’t keep up with those fees – Monsieur ou Madame, here’s the bus/train/bicycle. Have a nice day.”

      I’ve never been a fan of tolls; they are a regressive tax. Do you personally think a doctor should pay the same amount of as someone on minimum wage, when it comes to funding our roads?

      Reply
      1. Fagstein Post author

        I’ve never been a fan of tolls; they are a regressive tax. Do you personally think a doctor should pay the same amount of as someone on minimum wage, when it comes to funding our roads?

        Maybe. Not that tolls should be the only source of highway funding. But the car has the same effect on traffic whether it’s driven by a doctor or a dish washer.

        Besides, I don’t know how many minimum wage earners drive their cars to work (excluding those who require their cars for work).

        Reply
      2. Fassero

        Regressive tax? That makes no sense. The toll would apply to any vehicle driving on it. Quite frankly, I’m not sure somebody earning minimum wage, unless he/she lives home with their parents, can afford the operating cost of a car. Besides, are you suggesting gas prices are a “regressive tax” too? Last I checked, the doctor and the burger-flipper will pay the same price at the pump. Lotteries are the ultimate regressive tax. I don’t see any comparison between that and road tolls.

        My philosophy is simple – roads and bridges paid for by tolls from drivers. Tolls go directly to road construction, administration, and maintenance. Autoroutes 13 and 15 were actually bankrolled this way until the PQ stopped it. Much better than having it flushed down a bureaucratic sinkhole.

        Reply
  8. ZDZedDee

    There’s a lot more “random” in life than most people are comfortable with.

    I think Transports Quebec has an extremely tough and visible job, and for the most part it does a pretty good job, but they’re not superman/woman. And then comes one of those inevitable random events, and the ranters get going.

    There are a lot of variables in road construction and maintenance, and for the most part things go surprising well. The flip side is there are still a few bugs in the system, but at least at the present time we are throwing money at the problem. And then comes the next random event and headlines shout failure. Really, the system is pretty good, but then another oh-sh1t spectacular failure occurs. And we had better accept that random failures will continue to occur. This sounds fatalistic, and yes it is thanks for noticing. Or just hide in the bathroom, which is the most dangerous room in your home. The media feed on high perceived risk vs the more mundane and non-newspaper-selling actual risk. Oh well, at least it was an opportunity for LaPresse to call Sam Hamad a bullshiter using the anglo word.

    Reply
  9. wkh

    omg no more fucking inquiries. “Shit needs to be maintained and fixed regularly with modern quality methods.” There’s your inquiry. Now let’s fund it.

    Reply
  10. Jimmy Jack

    I have never understood why the three bridges over the St. Lawrence in Montreal are the ONLY federally owned bridges in Canada? If someone could fill me in on that I would appreciate it. Isn’t “transportation” a provincial matter?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I have never understood why the three bridges over the St. Lawrence in Montreal are the ONLY federally owned bridges in Canada?

      1. They’re not. The feds also control a lot of other bridges, including those that link to the United States and the Confederation Bridge.

      2. The South Shore bridges cross over the St. Lawrence Seaway, which is a federal jurisdiction. For historical reasons, the management of the Champlain, its corresponding ice bridge, the Jacques-Cartier and part of the Mercier are federal. The Melocheville tunnel southwest of Montreal is also federally controlled.

      Reply
      1. Jimmy Jack

        Actually, I don’t know of one single bridge to the USA that is owned by the feds. Nor any other bridge in an urban area. No bridges in Vancouver, Halifax, Saint John are owned by Ottawa.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          I don’t know of one single bridge to the USA that is owned by the feds.

          The Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge. the Seaway International Bridge and the Thousand Islands bridge in Ontario are all owned by the Federal Bridge Corporation.

          Reply
          1. Jimmy Jack

            OK, so three bridges in the entire country outside of Montreal, none particularly vital to trade. Did Ottawa pay for the refurbishment of the Halifax harbour bridges, the new Port Mann bridge in Vancouver, the Golden Ears bridge project in Langley BC. No, as they are a provincial responsibility. It always makes me laugh when Quebec politicians bark when Ottawa infringes on provincial jurisdiction (health especially), but bitch and scream when they aren’t given money to fund wholly provincial responsibilities.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              It always makes me laugh when Quebec politicians bark when Ottawa infringes on provincial jurisdiction (health especially), but bitch and scream when they aren’t given money to fund wholly provincial responsibilities.

              I believe they have a term for that. It’s called “Quebec politics”

              Reply
  11. Adam

    I’m sorry Steve, but you’ve lost me. If I understand correctly, you’re basically arguing that we’re all collectively responsible for Quebec’s infrastructure; since we won’t accept tolls and gas taxes, we should just shut up. I have to strongly disagree with this line of reasoning. Quebec already has one of one of the highest gas taxes in country. License and Registration fees are relatively pricey as well (ask anyone with a motorbike). I’m not going to go into our income tax rate. Yes, yes, I know that this revenue is spent on many other ministries and departments.

    My point is that, as Quebecois we’re already paying our fare share. I can understand why many States south of the border have toll roads. Their revenue from sate-level income taxes is much lower (some, like Florida or Texas, don’t even have any!) so the funds for road maintenance have to come from somewhere. Gas taxes in the US are among the lowest the developed world as well, yet they seem to know how to build smooth durable highways. Anyone who’s been on a US road trip can back me up.

    I’m not trying to oversimplify, I know the situation is complex. I just find it hard to believe that most heavily taxed province/state in North America does not have the funds to maintain its transportation infrastructure. Mismanagement surely needs to be looked at.

    “…or that once we eliminate corruption in construction contracts everything will balance out”

    Maybe not entirely, but wouldn’t you agree that this is a big part of the problem? It’s big enough for the premier to be afraid an inquiry, or for the Canada Revenue Agency to examine the books of 176 cities in the province, looking for irregularities in the handing out of construction contracts.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      you’re basically arguing that we’re all collectively responsible for Quebec’s infrastructure; since we won’t accept tolls and gas taxes, we should just shut up.

      I wouldn’t expect anyone to just shut up. My point is that people shouldn’t expect fundamental change if they’re giving their government little incentive to change.

      I just find it hard to believe that most heavily taxed province/state in North America does not have the funds to maintain its transportation infrastructure. Mismanagement surely needs to be looked at.

      We’re also the province with some of the most generous social programs – like $7 a day daycare – and the cheapest university tuition. The Charest government is slowly eating away at that, raising tuition for example. But Quebecers are pretty attached to all those social programs.

      wouldn’t you agree that [corruption] is a big part of the problem?

      Sure. I don’t think it’s the reason why our infrastructure is crumbling (that has more to do with the fact that it was all built in the 60s and 70s), and I don’t think it’s a magic solution to the funding problem, but dealing with corruption should definitely improve things significantly.

      Reply
      1. Marc

        I wouldn’t expect anyone to just shut up. My point is that people shouldn’t expect fundamental change if they’re giving their government little incentive to change.

        From anglos in particular, who overwhelmingly will never never never never vote against a Liberal gov’t.

        We’re also the province with some of the most generous social programs – like $7 a day daycare – and the cheapest university tuition. The Charest government is slowly eating away at that, raising tuition for example. But Quebecers are pretty attached to all those social programs.

        Well, yeah; they aren’t sustainable. Folks will be in for a rude awakening at some point.

        I don’t think it’s the reason why our infrastructure is crumbling (that has more to do with the fact that it was all built in the 60s and 70s)

        Bah, it’s all Jean Drapeau’s fault. :)

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          From anglos in particular, who overwhelmingly will never never never never vote against a Liberal gov’t.

          Well, some voted for the Equality Party, but yes, the polarization over sovereignty is probably the biggest issue that is preventing people from voting more rationally.

          Reply
        2. Kevin

          If Francois Legault ever gets his party together, I suspect he will sweep away both the Libs and the PQ.
          In fact, I’m certain the only reason the Libs voted to give the PQ official party status after the 2008 vote was to keep that party on life support long enough to keep anglophones voting liberal — in order for the ADQ to sink.

          For too long voting in Montreal and Quebec has been a choice between the lesser of two evils.

          Reply
      1. Fassero

        Semi-true. New Hampshire has a tax rate for interest and dividend income. You might be confusing it with the sales tax which, by and large, is zero. The big part on that end is they charge 9% “sales tax” on restaurant and prepared food, groceries, hotels, rental cars and a couple of other areas and a surtax on electricity consumption. True though on road conditions relative to Quebec’s (although, personally, I find Vermont roads to be better than New Hampshire.)

        Reply
        1. Jimmy Jack

          Okay, on income from 0 to 39K, Quebec has a personal tax rate of 16%, 20% to 78K and 24% for income over that. New Hampshire has no such state income tax. Quebec has a 8.5% (and rising) sales tax rate. New Hampshire has no sales tax. Yes, New Hampshire has taxes on a variety of individual accounts, but Quebec taxes every one of them as well.

          Not saying New Hampshire is perfect, but they have a hell of a lot less government and better roads, maybe not as nice as Vermont’s.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_income_tax#States_without_an_individual_income_tax

          Reply
  12. Becks

    What is the biggest single difference between Quebec and its lousy potholed,cracked and crumbling roads on the one hand and Maine, New York, Vermont and Ontario with their reasonably smooth and well maintained roads on the other hand???
    Be honest with your thought processes and you’ll get to the real reason we are in the infrastructure situation we are in now…and the way to solve it.

    Reply
    1. ant6n

      In the US, many highways are federal. Also, The US has bad health care, bad education, bad higher education, bad social nets, etc. – but they got good roads! … at some places.

      If you really think that all government should be centered around road-building and maintenance, then maybe you should consider moving down South. But be aware that their infrastructure all in all is crumbling, because all this car-culture is unsustainable (both economically and ecologically) – more so than the 7$ daycare.

      Reply
  13. Another Marc

    Look, I pay for my Driver’s License, I pay for my car registration, I pay for the gas taxes and I pay for those exorbitant parking fees on Mtl streets. And of course, that’s aside from the taxes I pay to Quebec and Canada.

    What I find shocking is that rather than biting the bullet and coming out to say “WE HAVE A PROBLEM”, the govt hides the issue and repairs the structures as needed and people lives are just part of the downstream costs.

    Oh!… really? That’s a strategy?

    Reply

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