The Quebec government is moving ahead with an exploratory study for a third link — either another bridge or a tunnel — between Quebec City and Lévis.
Véronyque Tremblay, the province's junior transport minister, made the announcement Monday, confirming the funding of $20.5 million for the project office announced in last spring's budget.
The objective, she said, is to properly document traffic numbers and patterns, the impact of congestion on commuters and truckers, as well as all the possible solutions.
The study will cover the entire region, from Île d'Orléans in the east to St-Augustin-de-Desmaures in the west.
"It's a priority project for our government," Tremblay said.
"Certainly, if we're investing $20.5 million, it's because we believe there is a need."
Lévis Mayor Gilles Lehouillier, who made an added link a key part of his election campaign earlier this fall, welcomed the announcement.
"Traffic congestion is our number one problem and it's essential for us to find solutions. The third link is absolutely essential to ensure mobility throughout the region," he said.
Mayor Labeaume skeptical
But the reaction was cooler from his colleague on the other side of the St. Lawrence River, Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume.
"It's about time that we heard from the professionals who can give us the technical, scientific and financial answers on this project, because until now, we've been hearing all kinds of things and some of it contradictory," Lebeaume said.
"The population needs to know the facts."
Labeaume says he's worried that if, for example, the study ultimately recommended a bridge-tunnel project in the eastern part of the city, linking Île d'Orléans to the north shore, the traffic impact on Quebec City would be substantial.
Another option is to build a third bridge west of the existing two bridges.
Either way, Labeaume, "we'll support a third link only if it is clearly demonstrated that there is a net gain, a very clear gain, for Quebec City taxpayers."
A preliminary report outlining the needs for the region is expected by the end of 2018, and a detailed study on the possible options by the summer of 2020. The government is giving itself until the end of 2020 to make a decision.
Despite daily rush-hour congestion leading to the two existing bridges, there has been no study to date establishing where the problems lie or if a third link would lead to an improvement.
Urban transit advocates have argued re-organization of existing roads, coupled with an integrated public transit system, would be a better solution.
In the meantime, Tremblay said, the Quebec government remains open to implementing any short- and medium-term solution to the traffic congestion problems, including improved public transit projects.