A $5-billion bridge is in the works to replace Montreal's aging Champlain Bridge, will come "at very low or no cost to taxpayers," but is likely to include toll booths, Canada's federal transport minister announced Wednesday.
Denis Lebel called the project "one of the most important of the decade," as he described future plans at a news conference in Montreal, flanked by Mayor Gérald Tremblay.
Tremblay, who has made several public pleas for a Champlain solution, said the investment "will be very important to the [economy] but also the social and sustainable development of the greater Montreal area."
"It has important consequences for Quebec, but also Canada," he said.
Financing details haven't been released, but Lebel said the federal government prefers the project be a public-private partnership (PPP), limiting costs to taxpayers.
He also indicated the new structure would likely be a toll bridge.
Champlain originally pay per use
The Champlain Bridge was officially opened as a toll bridge in 1962. The tolls were eventually abolished in 1990.
Even before Wednesday’s announcement, talk of a new bridge had renewed calls by some South Shore politicians to restore and expand toll charges to help pay for municipal infrastructure.
"The governments seem to be out of money," said Brossard city councillor Alexandre Plante.
"We’re facing big challenges in terms of money to put into our infrastructure. If you use the roads, you have to pay for it."
Chateauguay mayor Nathalie Simon said as long as the toll revenues were used to support transit and are fairly divided, she would support charging tolls on all of the city’s bridges and tunnels.
"If the money’s going to help us to provide new bus transportation or public transit or maintain our infrastructure, that’s good," she said.
"But if that goes into a whole budget at the federal level that we won’t see any money, that’s another thing."
New bridge a decade away
'Between the cup and the lip, there are many slips. So all we have is an announcement.' —Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae
Even with the federal commitment, it will still be at least a decade before the new bridge opens.
That drew criticism from Liberal MPs, including interim leader Bob Rae.
"We don’t have a plan today and we don’t have a new bridge today," he said.
"What we have is an announcement. Between the cup and the lip, there are many slips. So all we have is an announcement."
A recent report on the bridge's condition estimated that major repairs to prolong its life would cost an estimated $25 million over the next decade.
The report, released in July, concluded the bridge would have to be replaced eventually, even with repairs.
Montreal Liberal MP Denis Coderre pointed to a 2006 report which said the Champlain had 10 years of useable life left.
"Well, 2006 plus 10 years is 2016. And then we’re up to 2021. So that’s an important element. It’s a question of safety."
Lebel said the federal government will continue spending to maintain the existing bridge until a new structure is built.
"The Champlain Bridge is safe, but it does need maintenance," he said. "It is clear that we won't be able to repair it forever. We have to take action to replace it."