Quebec City tramway is one step closer to becoming a reality

Quebec City residents who have been pleading for better public transit gathered on Thursday to celebrate the recent agreement between the province and mayor Régis Labeaume.

Mayor reaches verbal agreement with Premier to move ahead with $3.3B project

Mayor Régis Labeaume says many elements already included in Quebec City's tramway project won't need to be revised, including plans for de la Couronne street, pictured here. (Ville de Québec)

Citizen and environmental groups in Quebec City are applauding a new deal that will finally allow a tramway project to move ahead.

Premier François Legault met with Mayor Régis Labeaume on Wednesday to discuss whether both levels of government could agree on the route the tramway will take, as well as how the new mass transit network could better serve citizens in the northern suburbs.

Labeaume, who has spent much of his career campaigning for the $3.3-billion project, left the meeting saying the Premier had given him his word.

"And he has mine," Labeaume said.

A compromise between both men seemed unlikely just a few weeks ago. In January, several CAQ MNAs started publicly questioning whether the tramway would meet the needs of residents in the suburbs.

Last month, Premier Legault said Labeaume was being unco-operative about suggestions for changes to the tramway's layout — a comment the mayor didn't take well.

But both governments seemed to have found a middle ground.

"We now agree on the outline of the new tramway route and the services needed for the suburbs — we hope to make an announcement soon," Legault tweeted after the meeting.

New layout

The tramway will no longer go north to Charlesbourg. Instead it will go further east to D'Estimauville, a neighbourhood the city has been trying to breathe new life into in recent years.

To make up for the service lost in Charlesbourg, the province is expected to add reserved bus lanes on highways running north to reach the suburbs of the Haute-Saint-Charles.

That's still a gamble, according to Quebec Solidaire MNA Sol Zanetti, because the CAQ has often voted against reserved bus lanes.

"I'm worried the government will be the one managing service to the suburbs," Zanetti said. "It makes me fear the CAQ's political intervention, and that is meddling."

Nonetheless, after years of back-and-forth, many are satisfied to finally see concrete steps being taken.

City opposition councillor Jean Rousseau said the changes Labeaume agreed to were necessary.

"Places further north deserve to have better service, and that was part of the complaints from many MNAs," said Rousseau.

"This is a win-win situation for the government and citizens —  it's great news."

First step toward larger investment

Accès Transport Viables, that promotes active and public transportation in Quebec City, views the Labeaume-Legault agreement as a first step in a much larger revamp of the city's public transit network.

"The fact that we'll be able to launch construction of the backbone of what will become a much larger sustainable transit network is excellent news," said director Étienne Grandmont.

The organization J'ai Ma Passe was created to show citizens' support for the tramway, amidst ongoing criticism from groups opposed to the project.

With 20,000 members, J'ai Ma Passe organized a rally on Wednesday to celebrate the governments' agreement.

Director Angèle Pineau-Lemieux said the last-minute changes that nearly jeopardized the project "proved that a single investment is not enough to answer all the mobility needs in the city."

"There are going to be necessary other phases, other routes added later on so we can offer more mobility alternatives."

The provincial government will still have to adopt a decree before being able to call for tenders and begin construction.

Quebec has so far promised an $1.8-billion investment. Ottawa is also pitching in $1.2 billion, and Quebec City another $300 million.