Montreal, January 7, 2007 • No 207




Harry Valentine is a
free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.




by Harry Valentine


          The main roads and highways that connect to the island of Montreal are plagued by traffic congestion during peak travel periods. A large percentage of Montreal's workforce lives off the island and commutes across congested bridges twice every day. The region to the west of Montreal is expanding and is connected to Montreal via two bridges that cross the Ottawa River. The south bridges (between Dorion and Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue) are regularly plagued with traffic congestion as is the connecting highway to Dorval and Montreal. The situation approaches gridlock during rush-hour periods. There are several methods by which traffic congestion may be temporarily reduced. Two of the methods would involve initiatives being undertaken at taxpayers' expense by public sector transportation departments while another alternative could be undertaken privately.


Suburban development

          The existing bridges that cross the Ottawa River to the west of Montreal Island may be widened along with the main highways in Montreal that connect to them. Such an exercise would be an extremely costly over the short-term and would likely attract more vehicles on to these roads as a result. Montreal's traffic congestion problems would likely perpetuate or worsen over the long-term future. People living in the region immediately to the west of Montreal have the option of traveling on the commuter train that connects Montreal to Dorion, Vaudreuil, Hudson and Rigaud during rush hour. This train serves the need of a small percentage of the commuting public that travels between the outlying suburbs and places of employment at Dorval and in the downtown area of Montreal.

          Building a new bridge across the Ottawa River at West Montreal would involve considerable expanse and be extremely problematic. One problem would be the choice of location for such a bridge and also the roads and highways that would connect to it. Such an exercise may require considerable expropriation of private property. The construction of such infrastructure may be a temporary solution that could encourage more suburban development and more bedroom communities to appear west of Montreal. More vehicles could subsequently travel over the new bridge and new roads that connect on to even more heavily congested roads located elsewhere in Montreal. Montreal's traffic gridlock may be a long-term problem without easy solutions.

          Chronic daily traffic congestion has the potential to cause productivity losses in industry and business. It can disrupt crucial JIT (Just-In-Time) delivery schedules and cost industries lost production. People who are regularly delayed in traffic and have to spend more time commuting between home and work could become less innovative, less creative and less productive in their work. There are several companies that have begun to recognize this fact and have begun to allow some of their knowledge workers to work on assignments from home-offices (telecommuting). Telecommuting may only be suitable for highly motivated individuals who work in specific industries and may only be a partial solution to the problem of lost productivity caused by traffic congestion.

          The likelihood of Montreal's traffic gridlock problems being resolved in the long-term future is remote. That situation would enhance the business development potential of the Vaudreuil-Soulange region located to the west of Montreal. Quebec's commercial power rates are up to 30% lower than those in Ontario where up to 70% of the power generation capacity may need to be retired (see QL no 118, no 141 and no 154). The high cost of diesel fuel has made the operation of trucks pulling double full-sized trailers more attractive to companies that depend on truck transportation. Quebec allows the operation of such vehicles along designated main highways including up to the border with Ontario where the operation of such vehicles is prohibited. That prohibition may have influenced the choice to build a distribution centre at Les Coteaux over a community to the west of the Ontario/Quebec border. Future regulatory negotiations could result in the trans-border operation of such truck combinations between Quebec and New York State.

"Private developers and private entrepreneurs could play a significant roll in reducing future traffic congestion on the two bridges over the Ottawa River at Montreal's West Island. They could achieve this as they develop the economic future of the southern Vaudreuil-Soulange region."

          Semi-trailers and containers that are transferred between road and rail at the intermodal rail/road terminals at Montreal would have easy access by road to industries located in the Vaudeuil-Soulange region. They would likely travel in the opposite direction to rush-hour traffic and minimize delays to JIT delivery schedules. Major railway lines pass through this region and connect directly to suppliers and customers in major centers such as Toronto and Southern Ontario, Western Canada and the United States. An intermodal road/rail terminal where shipping containers and semi-trailers may be transferred between road and rail could be built in this region near Les Cèdres where a small airport is conveniently located next to the main highway to the west of Dorion.

          Small private aircraft and small commuter aircraft can easily be operated to/from that airport. Space is available to lengthen the airport runway to up to 5000 feet and also widen it to handle small jet and commuter aircraft. The growing population of the West Montérégie region could eventually support the viable operation of commuter flights from Les Cèdres to regional airports at Quebec City and Toronto Island. Travelers who use such airports can bypass the compulsory security check that is required at international airports. That security check plus rush-hour traffic congestion in West Montreal can add some two hours to the travel time before passengers board an aircraft for a short domestic flight from Dorval. There may be potential to develop the airport at Les Cèdres into a commercial terminal where commuter flights to several destinations would be available.

          The growing population of the Vaudreuil-Soulange (and West Montérégie) region includes a large pool of talent and ability that is presently employed by industries and businesses that are located on the island of Montreal. New industries and new businesses that locate in the Vaudreuil-Soulange region in the future could just as easily employ a proportion of this talent and ability. Designating a bilingual business district in this region could help attract new industries and businesses that may have most of their customers located outside of Quebec (in the rest of Canada and in the USA). Employees of such businesses recognize that their ability to speak English to their employers' customers helps to keep their employers in business and themselves in a job.

          Private developers and investors having greater independence and more flexibility to engage in private planning would greatly enhance the economic development potential of the Vaudreuil-Soulange region. Their plans would likely differ from those created by government planning departments and could involve some proposed industrial parks and commercial centers being placed elsewhere or being revised. Private developers would have a profit motive to attract industries and businesses to either purchase or lease any industrial and commercial real estate they may have in the region. Private developers and private entrepreneurs could play a significant roll in reducing future traffic congestion on the two bridges over the Ottawa River at Montreal's West Island. They could achieve this as they develop the economic future of the southern Vaudreuil-Soulange region.