Quebec City's '3rd link' needs to be built east of downtown, says transport minister

The Legault government says it intends to build a third bridge or tunnel to connect Quebec City to the south shore in the eastern side of the city, despite results of its own study showing that more commuters travel on the west side.

Study on transportation habits reveals 60% of commuters travel on west side

Transport Minister François Bonnardel has not yet confirmed where the third link would be built, but has not ruled out the possibility of having a tunnel or bridge cross Île-d'Orléans and meet up with the Félix-Leclerc Highway. (Carl Boivin/Radio-Canada)

Quebec's transport minister insists it is necessary to build a third bridge or a tunnel between Quebec City and Lévis east of the downtown core, despite there being more traffic and commuters in Sainte-Foy, on the city's west side.

A government study released on Thursday revealed that roughly 60 per cent of people who drive across the St. Lawrence River every morning leave from the west and stay in the west.

Minister François Bonnardel said that includes Sainte-Foy, Lebourgneuf and Cap-Rouge on the north shore, as well as Lévis's Saint-Étienne and Saint-Lambert neighbourhoods.

"What we see is that most people are travelling in the west, which is normal because that's where the two bridges are," said Bonnardel on Thursday.

The Enquête Origine-Destination study was commissioned by Transports Québec in 2017, six years after the release of another study of the transit habits of Quebec City and Lévis residents.

The long-awaited results were necessary, according to many, to determine if there was a need to build a "third link" — a $6-billion project the Coalition Avenir Québec promised during the last provincial election to get off the ground.

The ministry polled 35,000 households in 41 municipalities in the region for the study.

The results suggest 31,000 commuters drive from west to west each morning, in comparison to 21,000 in the east, which includes Lévis and Bellechasse on the south shore, as well as La Cité-Limoilou, Beauport and Charlesbourg in Quebec City.

"This shows us that people who are in the east need another option," Bonnardel said.

A feasibility study released in 2016 suggested it would cost $4 billion to build a tunnel under the St. Lawrence River, east of downtown. (Graph Synergie)

Bonnardel said the study only painted a portrait of daily commutes but didn't include other travellers or heavy-truck traffic.

He said long-distance drivers from the Gaspé and the North Shore would also benefit from having an additional route to the east.

"We also have to see this project for the overall safety of the road network," Bonnardel said.

Local grumbling 

Bonnardel's reasoning did not impress Catherine Dorion, the Québec Solidaire MNA for Taschereau.

"The traffic really is on the west side of Quebec City, so [a third] link wouldn't change the lives of the people there," Dorion said in an interview with CBC Quebec's Breakaway.

According to Dorion, who has campaigned against the project since her election, having an entrance to the city to the east would increase traffic on Félix-Leclerc and Dufferin-Montmorency highways, already "saturated" during peak periods, and would contribute to urban sprawl.

"We don't understand why they are so dogmatic about this when all the experts, all the urbanists on the ground have said since the beginning that it is not a good idea."

Dorion reiterated that money spent on the third link should instead be dedicated to the city's tramway network.

Bonnardel said he intends to incorporate public transit in the construction plans for the third link, to offer more options to commuters.

The CAQ set aside a $325-million envelope in its last budget to carry out studies and plans for the "third link", which included funds to refurbish the Île-d'Orléans bridge. (Carl Boivin/Radio-Canada)

Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume, who is currently on medical leave, has been tepid toward the idea, and at best, had campaigned to have the third link built to the west, to connect Highway 20 and Highway 40.

The mayor of Lévis, Gilles Lehouillier, said he shares the CAQ's position and is in favour of a link to the east.

He said the study highlighted that 78 per cent of people in the region still prefer using their cars over any other mode of transportation.

"You can't expect that to change from one day to the next," Lehouillier said.

According to the study, there has been a 17.8 per cent overall increase in traffic since 2001, which follows the population increase over the 15-year period (16.1 per cent). 

With files from Spencer Van Dyk and Cathy Senay


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