Montreal

Imagine the Décarie Expressway, covered with green space and housing

A grassroots group has launched a petition calling for the busy expressway to be covered with an eco-friendly roof, topped with housing, parks, businesses and a bike path.

Group says it is feasible with today's technology to turn highway into tunnel with air-scrubbing ventilation

The Décarie Expressway was built some 55 years ago, cutting a trench in Montreal's west end. A local group wants to see it covered with a green roof. (CBC)

A grassroots group has launched a petition that calls for the Décarie Expressway — a busy multi-lane trench that cuts through the city's west end — to be covered with an eco-friendly roof topped with housing, parks, businesses and a bike path. 

Mouvement Couvrons-Décarie suggests covering the congested, 55-year-old highway with a super structure could be done in sections as a private-public partnership, breathing new life into the area and raking in property taxes.

Architect Pierre Zovilé, a member of the group, said the technology exists to "assure the continuity of the city with the buildings, with the parks, with the shops."

The highway was constructed without public consultation, the group says, and now the congested roadway pumps out exhaust all day.

The group launched a petition late last year with the aim of collecting 200 signatures.

More than 100 have signed on in the past couple months, calling on government officials to cover up the trench from NDG to Saint-Laurent.

Filtering out pollution

Highway 15 is prone to standstill traffic during peak hours as thousands use the roadway daily. If one of those cars sat running in a house for 20 minutes, all the occupants would be dead, said Guy Arbour, an engineer who is spearheading the petition.

"In the 60s, you could rip apart a neighbourhood without consequences," he said. "I think it's the new generation, the younger generation. For the sake of their children, it's up to them to push this forward and make it happen."

Pierre Zovilé and Guy Arbour (right) go over their plans to cover the Décarie Expressway. (CBC)

Arbour lives next to the Décarie Expressway and he said the smell and noise is unavoidable.

Together, Zovilé and Arbour have drawn up computer models showing exactly how the highway could be covered and built upon — greening up the neighbourhood and filtering out the pollution with today's ventilated tunnel technology that would scrub the air before releasing it into the atmosphere.

Not the first time the idea has been proposed

Snowdon Coun. Marvin Rotrand said the idea has been floated for years.

He met with the group when the late Luc Durand, a well-known architect, was involved. Durand died last March and, though his plan for the highway lives on, Rotrand said no investor has ever stepped forward to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to make it a reality.

The province won't fund it, he said, and the land value in Montreal just isn't at a level where an investment of such magnitude would turn a tempting profit.

"People have never been happy with the expressway," he said. "The idea of covering it would not be opposed by the citizens."

NDG Coun. Peter McQueen described the plan as a "laudable goal," but it would require, at least in part, "Transports Québec selling the air rights above it to private interests who can and would build buildings above it."

From there, he said, the city could weave in some parks in some key places.

Noise infiltrates neighbouring homes

The covered expressway is an idea that Sophie Larochelle can get behind.

Her kitchen can get busy around dinnertime, but nothing compares to what is going on just steps from her home as cars and trucks rumble by.

"I have kids, and sometimes I feel it's not really family friendly to have the Decarie like that," she said. "It's like a white noise in the house, but as soon as we get out of the house, in the back or the front, we cannot ignore the noise."

Sophie Larochelle's house, bordering the Décarie Expressway, is busy around dinnertime, but it's nothing compared to the highway just a stone's throw away. (CBC)

As soon as she heard of the idea of covering the highway, she said it was obvious to her that it should be considered by government officials.

"I don't see why this couldn't be done," she said. "When I heard about it, I found it was a great idea. Without a doubt."

With files from Matt D'Amours

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