Montreal's back-to-school traffic madness heightened by construction work, STM bus delays

School is back in session and with that comes increased road congestion across the Montreal region, made worse by the lasting effects of a labour dispute with STM employees that has reduced bus service across the island.

STM unions' May overtime strike, subsequent pressure tactics continue to slow bus service across island

University students returning to schools in Montreal were greeted Tuesday by road cones, new signage, slowed bus routes and no shortage of traffic. (Charles Contant/CBC)

School is back in session and with that comes increased road congestion, as thousands of vehicles motor through the Montreal region, bottlenecking at construction sites across the island.

What's worse, Montreal's public transportation service isn't operating at 100 per cent, as the agency grapples with the lasting effects of a May overtime strike and subsequent pressure tactics by maintenance employees.

Transports Québec made a big push over the Labour Day weekend, taking advantage of the reduced number of cars on the road to do major work on construction projects underway on the Bonaventure Expressway, Champlain Bridge and Turcot Interchange.

Closed roads were slated to re-open Tuesday at 5 a.m. as rush hour began, and by 6 a.m., traffic was already backing up on the bridges, in the tunnel and on Highway 40.

One of the city's busiest stretches of road, the Décarie Expressway, had an all new configuration Tuesday morning to welcome school- and work-bound commuters back to the daily grind.

Transports Québec is asking that northbound drivers on Highway 15 pay close attention to the new signage and infrastructure that will be in place around the Lachine Canal sector in the coming months.

Starting Tuesday, Sept. 4, drivers using Highway 15 North at De La Vérandrye will have to look out for a new lane configuration heading toward the Turcot Interchange. (Transports Québec)

Just after the Lachine Canal, signs have changed where Highway 15 motorists have a choice of continuing north or switching to Highway 20 westbound.

The partial closure on Highway 15 northbound remains in effect until the end of November 2018, Transports Québec states.

Just before 8 a.m., southbound traffic was at a standstill around the construction site at the Saint-Jacques Street overpass, and the northbound lanes were reduced to a crawl.

160 buses stuck in garage

Drivers should plan on leaving earlier than usual if they want to reach their destination on time and so should bus users, the city has advised.

According to the Société de transport de Montréal (STM), some 160 buses, about 10 per cent of the peak-period requirement, are not available to deliver the full scheduled service. 

There are still 160 STM buses off the road as the transportation agency works to catch up on a backlog of repairs, partially due to a labour dispute earlier this year. (Charles Contant/CBC)

The STM says the slowdown is related to labour negotiations with three separate STM unions.

Last May's overtime strike created a backlog of work orders and forced the STM to keep some buses on the road for extended periods, leading to unanticipated additional inspections and maintenance. 

"Unfortunately, we are unable to determine in advance the lines or sectors that will be affected, as all of the bus garages are involved," the public transit agency said Friday. "The STM is doing everything possible to improve the situation."

The STM has published a list of recommendations for its customers to consider before heading out.

While asking people to plan more time for their trips and to buy their monthly passes early, the agency is also encouraging customers to take advantage of its new beta website and mobile apps which allow users to track bus locations in real time.

Construction completion won't solve the problem: CAA-Québec

Over the last two decades, Quebec has seen a 30 per cent increase in the number of vehicles on its roads, according to CAA-Québec spokesperson Annie Gauthier.

In 2000, there were 3.4 million vehicles, compared to 4.8 million in 2017.

"There are a lot of cars, so of course it will create traffic, and it will make it more difficult to be on the road in Quebec," said Gauthier.

By 7:45 a.m., southbound traffic on the Décarie Expressway was already at a standstill as drivers navigated around the latest construction-related detours on the Turcot Interchange. (Jay Turnbull/CBC)

When major routes like the new Champlain Bridge are opened, it should help reduce congestion, Gauthier said, but the completion of major construction projects is not a magic bullet.

People need to explore other ways to mitigate traffic, she said, such as maximizing the use of every car and increasing reliance on public transportation.

"I think we need to be a little bit more creative and search among other kinds of solutions such as remote work," she said.

"Maybe some companies and organizations could explore that possibility and offer it to their employees to make them more efficient and not stuck in the traffic all morning." 

With files from the CBC's Jay Turnbull