Opinion piece: Westmount’s holding MTQ accountable on Turcot project

In a column on June 7 Martin Patriquin tried to depict Westmounters as having “a sense of entitlement” and as isolationists trying to stop the rebuilding of the Ville-Marie Expressway, this may be appealing in this current media climate but it is far removed from the truth.

First of all, let me clearly state that the City of Westmount is fully supportive of the Turcot project and the building of the new Highway 136. Even as we face another summer of detours and inconveniences, we all know that we have put off this necessary investment in infrastructure for far too long. Ensuring easy access to the new MUHC and to downtown is critical and in the best interest of all of us.

But a project of this magnitude needs careful planning before construction starts in order to ensure environmental and other issues are effectively addressed.

Noise is now recognized by world authorities from the World Health Organization to the United Nations as a serious form of pollution that can have adverse effects on human health and quality of life. Sound levels on completion of the highway are projected to far exceed Quebec’s environmental standards. Holding the government accountable to its own health standards is not NIMBYism – it is being a responsible government. It is important to emphasize that the Ministry of Transport (MTQ) is already building sound walls all over the province and on multiple stretches of the Turcot Interchange including in Montreal West, La Verendrye and Côte St. Paul, because it rightfully recognizes the threat posed by sound pollution for Quebec residents.

Our position is that the issue needs to be addressed, and that it is best to do so before starting a project to avoid incurring additional costs down the road.

The government decree which authorized the construction of the Turcot Interchange actually required the new highway to be built at a lower level over the entire stretch bordering the City of Westmount. The lowering of the highway was even expressly considered a fundamental objective of the project, in order that noise pollution and other vehicular emissions could be reduced from their projected high levels.

Yet, without notice and without consultation with the City of Westmount or the local residents, those plans were changed. MTQ unilaterally made the decision to keep the highway at the current level for half of its length on Westmount’s southern border. We then tried to engage in a dialogue with government representatives and asked the Minister of Transport to intervene. Unsuccessful in our efforts to establish a dialogue, we were left with no other alternative than to go to court.

The MTQ did not even bother to seek an amendment to the 2010 government decree in order to approve these changes, despite the fact that it had sought amendments for other changes, far less important or consequential than this one.

Our goal is not to stop Highway 136 from being built. Quite the contrary, we can’t wait for it to be completed. Yet we are also convinced that a sound barrier will eventually have to be built. It only makes sense to incorporate it into the design stage rather than having to go back after the fact at great expense.

The author’s outdated and inaccurate stereotypes of Westmount residents certainly will never deter me from fighting for the rights of my residents. As for the inaccurate information he provided on Côte St. Luc being opposed to the extension of Cavendish, a 30 second Google search would have informed him that this has been something the current and previous Mayors of Côte St. Luc have worked tirelessly to achieve. The facts on these important issues matter and needed to be clarified.

Christina M. Smith

Mayor of Westmount