Province unveils ambitious transit plan for Quebec City, including $7B for 3rd link

A tunnel linking Quebec City's downtown with Lévis should be up and running in 10 years. A tramway going east to west will cost another $3 billion and should be ready by 2027.

A tunnel linking Quebec City's downtown with Lévis is expected to be done by 2031

The tunnel is part of a larger plan to improve the transit network in Quebec City over 10 years. (Quebec government)

The Quebec government announced on Monday that Quebec City will be getting a long-awaited third link between the provincial capital's downtown and the municipality of Lévis in the form of a $7-billion tunnel.

Legault announced that the tunnel would be part of an ambitious new transit network, linking Quebec City and its surrounding suburbs.

The Réseau express de la Capitale (REC) includes the tunnel, a tramway, reserved lanes and parking lots to encourage commuters who live outside the city to use public transport.

The Quebec-Lévis tunnel will be 8.3 kilometres long and 19.4 metres wide. Once complete, officials say it should take about 10 minutes to get from one end to the other.

There will be two levels of three lanes each. One lane in each direction will be reserved for electric buses. 

A model of the tunnel shows how the two levels will be organized. (Quebec government)

The tunnel is set to be operation in 10 years. According to a government news release, Quebec is planning to submit an official request for funding to the federal government to help finance the project.

Premier François Legault did not say how much the province will be asking for, but he said it would be a significant part of the budget.

He added that, due to the long timeline of the project, the $7-billion budget may fluctuate depending on costs and could become more expensive by the time it's finished.

He said there would be no question of introducing a toll for motorists using the tunnel.

An environmental consultation will begin this fall and preparatory work is planned for 2022. 

Legault promised to build a third link between the two shores during the 2018 election campaign. 

Currently, the two shores are connected by the Pierre-Laporte Bridge and the Quebec Bridge.

In his speech, Legault emphasized that the tunnel is "absolutely necessary" and will serve to bolster economic development in the region. 

He said he was "very proud" to be announcing concrete plans for the project and said that it will encourage users to take public transportation and leave their cars at home.

Legault added that it will also help reduce traffic on the two bridges and make it easier for emergency vehicles to get to Lévis.

"Right now, it's unacceptable the delays we have on those two bridges," he said.

When asked whether a third link would still be needed in 10 years if more people are working from home, Legault said that Quebec City needs to plan for development.

"I think we can expect to see an important growth in the next 100 years. And we need to have the infrastructure to have a good economic development. And I think that Quebec City has a good potential," said Legault.

"But right now, unfortunately in the last 10, 20 years, there was not enough investment in public transport in Quebec City."

Tramway gets green light

The province also announced details about the tramway network which will connect Quebec City east to west.

The route will be around 20 kilometres long and should be in service as of 2027.

The tramway project is expected to cost about $3.3 billion and will be funded by the Quebec government, the federal government and the city of Quebec.

Régis Labeaume said the tram network will have a positive impact on the environment by encouraging commuters to use public transit instead of driving. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

Speaking on Monday, Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume, who has been an advocate for the tramway project, said this represents "an important moment for Quebec."

Labeaume said that the projects that will make up the Réseau express de la Capitale will give people more options to get around and "freedom of choice."

He said despite the environmental impact of construction, investing in public transportation is a way to reduce the number of drivers on the roads.

Lévis Mayor Gilles Lehouillier also spoke following the announcement, saying that it was the best day of his political career.

"It's more than a tramway. It's more than a Quebec-Lévis tunnel. It's a harmonious plan for sustainable mobility for the future, for the next 100 years," he said.

Lehouillier called it a "historic moment" and echoed comments made by Legault earlier, saying that it was about time the region got an integrated public transit network.

He added that the tunnel will reduce the strain on the Pierre-Laporte Bridge by as much as 30 per cent.

Québec Solidaire says project is 'ridiculous'

Following the announcement, two Québec Solidaire MNAs released a statement, panning the multi-billion-dollar project.

Catherine Dorion, who represents the riding of Taschereau in Quebec City, said that the Legault government is trying to make the project appear more eco-friendly than it is.

"If we asked Quebecers what they would do with $10 billion, I truly wonder how many would respond that they would dig a tunnel between Lévis and Quebec City. With that sum, we could fix the housing crisis entirely, take care of our real estate assets to create public daycares, invest in mental health, etc. It's ridiculous," Dorion said in a statement.

Much of the discussion around the third link has questioned its environmental impact and whether the demand is actually there. (Carl Boivin/Radio-Canada)

"It's a project for the cement and asphalt cartels, for the big car and oil companies."

Sol Zanetti, Québec Solidaire MNA for the Quebec city riding of Jean-Lesage, accused the government of carrying out a "greenwashing operation."

Québec Solidaire has long been vocal in opposition to the third link. Zanetti said he's not sure the plan can even pass an environmental consultation. 

"I am convinced that this tunnel will never see the light of day because the project will never pass environmental assessments, it is downright impossible," he said.

Despite assertions that the third link will increase public transportation use, environmental groups have also long denounced the idea.

On Monday, a coalition of groups including Équiterre, The David Suzuki Foundation and the Regional Council on the Environment for the Capitale Nationale region came out against the plan.

Launching a campaign against the third link, the groups are expected to release more details about their opposition on Tuesday.

With files from Cathy Senay