Plans for third bridge linking Quebec City to suburbs quickly becoming an election issue

The Liberals say construction on a third bridge across the St. Lawrence, between Quebec City and its south shore suburbs, will begin in 2026. That has drawn criticism from the Coalition Avenir Québec, which promises to get it done faster.

Liberals say construction will begin in 2026, but CAQ says that shows lack of political will

Quebec City's two existing links to its southshore suburbs, the Quebec Bridge and the Pierre-Laporte Bridge. (Radio-Canada)

The Quebec City region is expected to be a key battleground in the upcoming provincial election — and plans to build a third bridge linking the capital with its south shore suburbs are shaping up to be a major issue.

At a press conference in Quebec City this week, junior Transport Minister Véronyque Tremblay presented a study that proposes five possible routes to a bridge across the St. Lawrence.

Four out of the five options are located east of the existing Pierre-Laporte and Quebec bridges.

More specifically, the five options would link:

  • Route Lagueux in Lévis and Highway 40 near Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures.
  • Taniata Ave. and Robert-Bourassa Highway.
  • Valero Raffinerie and the Laurentian Autoroute.
  • Davie Shipyard and Félix-Leclerc Highway.
  • Route Lallemand on Île-d'Orleans and Dufferin-Montmorency Highway and Félix-Leclerc Highway.

Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume was quick to express his preference for the most westerly route, from Lévis to Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures.

"The future of economic development in Quebec City will happen in the west," he told Radio-Canada.

"It isn't because we don't like the east. The east is more residential," he said.

Lévis Mayor Gilles Lehouillier said planning for the new bridge is behind schedule. He criticized the government's announcement, saying "they had nothing new to tell us."

Lehouillier said he expected a study to define the transportation needs of the two cities, but instead, "we were presented five scenarios that are based on nothing." 

Construction to begin in 2026, Liberals say

Tremblay said the five options would be reduced to three before a final bridge proposal is chosen and the goal is to begin construction on the new structure in 2026.

Tremblay stressed the Liberal government is serious in its commitment to build the new bridge, but that it will take the necessary time. The government is spending $20.5 million in preparation for the project, she said, and wants to make "the best choice" to meet the needs of the population.

"We have to do things properly," she said.

François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec says it would build the bridge before the end of the next mandate, if it's elected on Oct. 1. (Jacques Boissinot/CANADIAN PRESS)

Speaking alongside Tremblay, Richard Charpentier, the engineer who is heading the bridge planning project, said it "will take a lot of time."

He said land expropriation and purchasing will be necessary, and a decision will only come after an environmental impact study is completed. Charpentier said he expected the process to start in 2020, when the final location is chosen.

Building it in the next four years, as the Coalition Avenir Québec has promised, "is not realistic," he said.

CAQ promises to get a bridge built by end of next mandate

However, François Paradis, a Coalition Avenir Québec MNA for a Lévis riding, on the south shore of Quebec City, dismissed the Liberals' announcement as "smoke and mirrors."

"The only thing we learned today is that the third link will not cross the Plains of Abraham," Paradis said.

The CAQ wants to build the third bridge across Île-d'Orléans.

"It will be built before the end of the next mandate," Paradis said.

Paradis said it's a matter of political will. Montreal's REM, the Réseau express métropolitain light-rail transit network, was first talked about in 2014, he said, by way of example, and construction began this year.

"There was an iron will there," Paradis said. "There is no political will here."

"The Quebec Liberals are not delivering the goods."

An election issue

Tremblay was accompanied by Education Minister Sébastien Proulx, who represents Quebec City's Jean-Talon riding, and Labor Minister Dominique Vien, who was elected in the riding of Bellechasse, on the city's south shore.

Vien said that, like the CAQ, she favours a bridge site east of Lévis.

For his part, Proulx, who was with the Action démocratique du Québec party before it merged into the CAQ, cautioned that the decision must be "based on facts, not on impressions."

"We have to plan things carefully," he said.

Whatever happens, it's clear that plans for a third bridge will figure largely in the upcoming provincial election campaign, which formally kicks off on Aug. 23.

There are 14 Quebec National Assembly seats in the greater Quebec City area. In the 2014 election, nine of those ridings went to the Liberals, the CAQ won four and one went to the Parti Québécois.

In byelections since then, the Liberals took back one seat from the CAQ, while the CAQ won a seat that had been a Liberal stronghold.

With files from Radio-Canada