Quebec City unveils plans for $3-billion tramway network, wants feds and province to pay

Quebec City unveiled plans Friday to build a $3-billion public transit network that will include tramways, an electric trambus and reserved bus lanes.

Network would cover 23 kilometers and include two underground sections

Two sections of the tramway would go underground, in Sainte-Foy and in Saint-Roch. (Submitted by city of Quebec)

Quebec City unveiled plans Friday to build a $3-billion public transit network that will include tramways, an electric trambus and reserved bus lanes.

The city said it hopes to increase by 30 per cent the number of people who use public transportation to get around the city, and said the improved network would take up to 12,500 cars off the road every day.

Mayor Régis Labeaume said on Friday the project comes after more than eight years of work, and that he is "ecstatic" to finally see it laid out.

"Quebec City will finally become a modern city," Labeaume said at a news conference, alongside Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.

The provincial government has promised its full support for the construction of the network, which could mean footing up to 60 per cent of the bill. 

But to do this the province still needs to reach an agreement with Ottawa, which would pay the other 40 per cent under its Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, said Couillard.
Premier Philippe Couillard (left), and Quebec City mayor Régis Labeaume said they were confident Ottawa would confirm its participation in the project in the coming months. (Radio-Canada)

"I'm very confident we'll resolve this in the coming months," Couillard said.

Labeaume said he discussed the funding during a recent meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

"He personally told me that he'd pay," Labeaume said.

For now, the only money that has been committed is Quebec's $215-million to draw up the final blueprints and plans for the project.

East to west in 38 minutes

The tramway would extend over 23 kilometres, including two sections that would run underground.

The total trip would take 38 minutes, said Benoît Carrier, the head of planning for Quebec City's public transit system.

He said the tramway would be fully electric and fed by overhead wires.

"It's exactly what is needed for Quebec City's climate, and it works," he said, comparing it with similar tramways in Nordic cities like Helsinki.

The streetcars, which can accommodate 260 passengers, would run from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., every three to five minutes during rush hour and every 10 to 15 minutes otherwise. 

Certain streets, like Boulevard Louis XIV, pictured here, will lose one car lane on either side of the tramway line. (Submitted by city of Quebec)

For its part, the municipality said it is committed to spending $300 million for the infrastructure needed to support the network, such as sidewalks and roads. It will also be responsible for operating costs estimated at $158 million a year.

Alain Mercier, the general manager of the Réseau de Transport de la Capitale (RTC) said this would actually be lower than if the RTC continued to invest in its existing bus fleet.

"By 2026, the Metrobuses will need to be renewed anyway," he said.​

The city is confident the timeline it has marked down for the project is reasonable, and says the first streetcars will be ready to be tested out in 2025.

The full network would be in operation by 2026.

Lévis loses out

The project, as laid out now, does not include a link to Quebec City's south shore.

Mayor Gilles Lehouillier backed out of Labeaume's previous attempt at a $1.1-billion bus rapid transit project in 2017, which would have connected both shores.

The relationship between the two mayors has been rocky ever since.

After seeing the proposed tramway project on Friday, Lehouillier said he has already presented his own infrastructure project to the government to improve public transportation in Lévis.

The tramway would include four major stations, which would connect with the Metrobus lines. (Submitted by city of Quebec)

Third time's a charm?

This is the third time in less than a decade that Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume has tried to expand his city's public transit offerings. 

Labeaume first introduced the idea of a tramway in 2010, which carried then an estimated cost of $1.5 billion.

But without the full financial support of the federal and provincial governments for the tramway, Labeaume ditched the idea in 2014.
The tramway would go underground in the steepest areas of the city. (Submitted by city of Quebec)

He then moved onto the idea of the bus rapid transit system, which was deemed more efficient and adapted to the city's terrain and needs.

Popular support for the project also seemed to be dwindling in the months before the 2017 municipal election, which Labeaume ended up winning easily.

During the campaign, Labeaume didn't commit to a specific project, saying he "was going to get to work" the day after the vote. 

With files from Catou MacKinnon and Radio-Canada