Critics challenge Montreal's light rail project at public hearing

Proponents of the new light rail system say it's good for the environment and will speed up commuting times. But the project also has plenty of critics.

Project seems rushed, say environmentalists at 1st day of BAPE hearings

The $5B project promises to reduce traffic congestion and get people to work faster than the current system of commuter buses. (Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec)

Hundreds gathered at a downtown hotel Monday night for the environmental hearings on Montreal's proposed light rail project.

The train service proposed by the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec would connect the airport and Deux-Montagnes to downtown Montreal and the South Shore.

The $5-billion project, being hailed as the biggest infrastructure project since the Metro was built, hinges on getting environmental approval. Proponents of the new light rail system say it's good for the environment and will speed up commuting times.

"We're talking about improving collective transport around Montreal, we're talking about bringing a solution that is more frequent, more fast," said Jean-Vincent Lacroix, a spokesman for the Caisse.

But it also has plenty of critics, who attended the first day of hearings by the BAPE, Quebec's bureau of public hearings on environmental matters, showed.

"My concern is that the project has been rushed through by the government," said Donald Hobus of the Sierra Club of Canada.

"They seem to be in too much of a hurry to get this thing started and finished, and there's no reason for that. They should be taking more time, investigating a little more carefully."

A project for real estate tycoons?

Some questioned whether the project is about transit or a business deal to help Quebec's pension fund make money from the rising land values.

"A lot of the train stations in the West Island are being built in places where there's no one living right now and the only way that they can make money on this investment is through massive real estate development," said Lachine resident Lisa Mintz.

The Caisse has revised some plans in response to environmental concerns, such as protecting more wetlands, but not not everyone is satisfied.

"If this was done anywhere else, it would be months of hearings, months of information being put forward on how much it's going to cost," said environmentalist Irwin Rapoport. "What are the alternatives? This is a fait accompli as far as the Quebec government is concerned."

The hearings continue through Wednesday. The commissioners will submit a report to the environment minister by the end of December and it must be made public by the end of February.