Outgoing Quebec City mayor criticizes controversial 3rd link project in lengthy exit letter

In his final act as mayor, Régis Labeaume urged premier to reconsider the $7-billion tunnel that would connect Quebec City to its South Shore.

In final act as mayor, Régis Labeaume urges premier to reconsider $7B Quebec City-Lévis tunnel

Outgoing Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume says there are better and cheaper ways to serve the Quebec City and Lévis populations than the CAQ's proposed tunnel. (Steve Breton/Radio-Canada)

In a 14-page letter addressed to Premier François Legault Thursday night, longtime Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume came out against the CAQ's proposed tunnel project that would connect the city to its south shore. 

In his letter, Labeaume lists several reasons why he feels the project would fail to reduce traffic for people on either side of the Pierre-Laporte Bridge, and provides a list of solutions he says would cost a lot less than the third link's estimated $10-billion price tag. 

Labeaume acknowledges the CAQ is fulfilling a campaign promise in proposing the project, but says it is not too late for Legault to admit that his government may have made a mistake. 

"It can be hard to detect the elements that make the difference between the success and the failure of a project," Labeaume wrote. 

"But in any case, we are nonetheless the ones responsible and we need to admit the mistake or mistakes that we could not determine at the start." 

The two-tiered tunnel connecting Quebec City to Lévis is expected to be completed by 2031. (Quebec government)

The outgoing mayor points to a 2019 Transport Ministry study that found three-quarters of the vehicles travelling from the South Shore to Quebec City at rush hour come from the western portion of the South Shore, while the proposed tunnel would connect the eastern portions of the two cities. 

"How would drivers save any time using this route?" Labeaume asks. 

He also points to a study by the Institut de la statistique du Québec that suggests the population of Lévis and the three surrounding regional municipal counties will see a population growth of only 12 per cent between 2017 and 2041. 

According to those same statistics, the population aged 65 and over will grow more than 74 per cent between 2017 and 2041. 

"The population aged 65 and over on the South Shore will consist almost entirely of retirees who will naturally be travelling outside rush hours," Labeaume argues. 

Proposed solutions 

Labeaume suggests three alternatives to the tunnel in his letter, including adding a lane to the Pierre-Laporte Bridge that would change direction depending on traffic during rush hours in the morning and evening. 

He also believes improving the areas around the exits and entrances of both the Pierre-Laporte and Quebec bridges would help the situation significantly. 

Lastly, Labeaume calls for improvements to public transit on the South Shore, "allowing families to let go of their second cars." 

"Together, these solutions would fix the traffic issues for a long time, I would think, and this for only a fraction of the $10 billion in investments estimated for the tunnel," he concludes. 

"I would add that, in terms of sustainable development, a change in direction on the Quebec City-Lévis tunnel would give hope to the young people of Quebec." 

A man is speaking at a news conference.
Transport Minister François Bonnardel has said he is upset the Quebec City tramway is now expected to cost $600 million than initially planned. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

In a news conference Friday, Legault said he has not yet read the mayor's letter. 

"Mr. Labeaume is no longer mayor of Quebec City, but he's an observer who has the right to his comments on the tramway and the third link," said Legault, adding he will reply to Labeaume once he has read the letter. 

While Labeaume says he is removing himself from the spotlight as of now, he is still the city's mayor until Bruno Marchand is sworn in Sunday. 

Mayor calls on province to pay up

Labeaume's letter described, in depth, how decisions made by the Legault government also led to significant delays in the construction of the city's tramway — and to an increase in the project's estimated price tag. 

Last month, Transport Minister François Bonnardel said he was unhappy that the tramway is now expected to cost $600 million more than expected. 

"We will sit down with the new administration in the coming weeks and we will understand how they wound up with such a significant explosion in costs," Bonnardel said. 

In his letter, Labeaume says it was the province's last-minute changes to the project, delays in approval and changes made to the call for tenders criteria that led to the price jump. 

Because of this, he says, the province should be the one to foot the bill. 

"None of the delays that created this cost increase is attributable to the city, quite the contrary," Labeaume writes. 

"In these circumstances, I think the population of Quebec City has the right to expect the government to take responsibility for the consequences." 

Environmental activists satisfied 

Labeaume's arguments against the third link echoed those long-shared by several environmental groups in the city.

"I think this is a way to reset the meters for the next administration," said Étienne Grandmont, director general of Accès transports viables. 

"It's a strong message, I find, that he's sent the Legault government." 

Québec Solidaire MNA Sol Zanetti agreed. He hopes the outgoing mayor's letter will give residents the information and fuel they need to fight the tunnel project. 

Jackie Smith, incoming city councillor and leader of Transition Québec, based much of her municipal election campaign platform on her opposition to the third link.

She too is satisfied with Labeaume's arguments. 

"We were happy to see he backed up everything we've been saying all along," said Smith. 

Smith said Quebec City residents and the new administration should make sure to hold the province to account, and ensure the tramway project gets done.

With files from Radio-Canada's Sébastien Tanguay and Camille Carpentier