'No economic argument' for spending $7.5M on Formula E concrete barriers, says city councillor

City spokesperson says using concrete barriers from the Gilles Villeneuve race track was out of the question because they were concerned the barriers would break if moved.

Barriers were built specifically to meet Formula E race track specifications

The concrete barriers were built and paid for by the City of Montreal to the tune of $7.5 million. (Simon-Marc Charron/Radio-Canada)

With a little more than a week before the Formula E race, the City of Montreal is again being criticized over the hefty $24-million price tag.

The City provided a rundown of costs in June, earmarking $7.5 million for new concrete barriers that would protect the track. 

But some critics say the barriers could have been rented for a fraction of the price.

"There's absolutely no economic argument for this decision to spend $7.5 million on the fences," said Ville-Marie city councillor Steve Shanahan.

"The people of Montreal have had to pay lots and lots of money to pay for [Mayor Denis] Coderre's whim."
Steve Shanahan is the city councillor for Ville-Marie Peter-McGill District with the Vrai Changement party. (CBC)

He can't see why the race shouldn't be held at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, just like the Formula One. 

"What I find disrespectful to all the businesses around here, all the people who live here, and certainly all Montrealers who are footing the bill for fences like this is, we have a beautiful race track a stone's throw from here," he said.

City spokesperson Anik de Repentigny told CBC that the barriers were built to specific standards and that renting the ones at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was out of the question due to concerns that they would be damaged.

"If we were to remove them, there was a great risk of them breaking," said de Repentigny. 

She went on to say that the newly built barriers would last up to three times longer than normal ones, which have an average life span of between three and five years. She added that the barriers could be reused to replace old ones at Gilles Villeneuve or during festivals around the city.

Mayor Denis Coderre defended the spending in April, saying much of the road surface repair work had to be done anyway and that it would be an investment in Montreal being seen as a green energy leader.

The race is slated to take place July 29 and 30. (Formula E)

Bad for business

Businesses in the area are no happier with the city's plan to shut down several key arteries to traffic during the race, and restrict lanes during construction of the track.

La Mer, a fish store on René-Lévesque Blvd., has seen a marked drop in business since the tall barriers have gone up and access to the parking lot has been cut off on both ends.

"We're trying our best to let customers know that we're still open, and they can come. We know it's a little difficult to get here," said employee Alexander Meletakos. "But it's a huge stress, because you know, we can't keep this fish another week."
Access to La Mer fish store is limited by construction happening on the Formula E track. (CBC)

La Mer has been in operation for 40 years, but Meletakos says they weren't consulted or even informed about how their business would be affected.

"We found out about the event by looking at the Evenko website and [saw] that they were going to be right in front of our building," he said. 

"We would have loved to have a bigger role in it, especially since we're so negatively impacted by it. I feel that we should have been offered something in the event."

The race is scheduled to take place on July 29 and 30, with another 10 days to dismantle the course.

With files from Navneet Pall