Deconstructing the Turcot Interchange

turcot1.jpg

Photo by Karen Spencer

“What drew me to the Turcot originally was the size of it,” recalls Ken McLaughlin. The Verdun artist maintains Walking Turcot Yards, a blog dedicated to the area around the giant interchange at the junction of highways 15 and 20, built in 1966 in a feat of Modernist ambition. “It’s pretty incredible to look up there and see it all. It’s very sculptural, all the lines and shapes, very smooth,” he says.

Next year, though, the area around the Turcot Yards will be dramatically reshaped by a $1.5-billion reconstruction project. The grandiose swoop and curves of the city’s most iconic interchange will make way for an entirely new structure, its layers of flyovers and elevated highways replaced by a new structure that hugs the ground, surrounded by berms and embankments. Construction is expected to last from 2009 to 2015.

Quebec’s transport minister promises that the new interchange will be safer for motorists and quieter for nearby residents. But people in both NDG and St-Henri are worried that the impact on their neighbourhoods will be severe.

In western St-Henri, residents of the Village des Tanneries, who live right next to the interchange, fear nothing less than the complete disruption of their lives. Jody Negley, leader of the Citizens’ Committee of the Village des Tanneries, worries about having to live with six years of constant construction.

“Years of community effort on the part of residents and non-profit groups to improve quality of life in the area will be for naught,” she says. “Nobody will want to spend any time outside as the noise levels will be deafening, the air quality will be toxic, the newly built community gardens will be covered in grime [and] it will be unsafe for children to play outside, given the traffic and pollution.”

For decades, the Village des Tanneries has suffered from poverty and neglect; more than half of its population live below the poverty line. Since 2000, residents have banded together to organize community events, plant community gardens and work local politicians to fight crime and improve neighbourhood amenities. Now, though, Negley says that all of those efforts could be jeopardized by the expropriations required by reconstruction.

“The entire north side of Cazelais street does not appear on [the MTQ’s] maps post-reconstruction,” says Negley. “A large loft building, 780 St-Rémi, which houses 400-plus people, is also missing.”

Further west, NDGers are also worried. In November, the MTQ organized a last-minute meeting to address their concerns and was met with a higher than anticipated turnout.

One of the top issues is access to the Falaise St-Jacques, a natural cliff space running along the embankment just above the Turcot Yards. The MTQ envisions moving Highway 20 up against it to open the land currently occupied by the highway for redevelopment.

But Peter McQueen, a community activist and former Green Party candidate for NDG, says that this plan will jeopardize access to the cliff. “It’s hard to get there now but after they’re done with their project, it will be even harder,” he says. “This thing is bigger than just the MTQ. It needs to be opened up. It’s a societal project.”

Mario St-Pierre, a spokesperson for the MTQ, defends the Turcot project, saying that maintaining the current elevated structure wouldn’t be worth the cost. Besides, he adds, the new interchange will be designed with the needs of adjacent neighbourhoods in mind. Parts of it will allow for public access to the Falaise and it will be surrounded by greenery, to the benefit of St-Henri.

“People have been living next to an autoroute for 40 years,” he says. “This new plan is designed to improve their quality of life.”

As for the impact on the Village des Tanneries, St-Pierre won’t go into detail. “Some expropriations will be necessary,” he says, “but it’s hard to please everyone. There’s a process we’re following so people aren’t going to be taken by surprise.”

Negley is sceptical. “The MTQ promises that the community itself will be better, greener and perhaps even less noisy than at present. But it will be another 10 years before they ever get to the stage of actually planting trees, landscaping, and even building a noise barrier here. By then, most of us will have given up and moved away.”

McLaughlin, meanwhile, will mourn the lost opportunities presented by the original elevated Turcot interchange. “Leaving it where it is, we could develop the space underneath and around it in a green way. When they lay this new highway on the ground it’s just going to cut everything off.”

turcot2.jpg

Photo by Gabor Szilasi, 1967

This article was originally published in the January 25th edition of the Montreal Mirror.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Thursday January 24 2008at 11:01 pm , filed under Canada, Transportation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Response to “Deconstructing the Turcot Interchange”

  • J. Goldwater says:

    Les Amis de Meadowbrook is getting together with groups that support the Falaise with a plan for a Trame Verte.

    We have been working on the idea of a green belt in the south west of Montreal with Patrick Asch of Heritage Laurentien.

    It’s possible to link up the Parc des Rapides, Douglas Hospital grounds, Angrignon Park, the Falaise, and Meadowbrook. Residents of the west and south west would be able to enjoy bicycle paths, cross country ski trails and walking trails. This could bring tourists in and provide other benefits to this area. Eventually this could also be extended to Lachine.

    This is quite urgent, because of the rebuilding of the Turcot Interchange, which could affect the Falaise. There are also plans in the works to develop Meadowabrook Golf Course.

    If any one knows of community groups and other individuals in the south west that would be willing to support this idea, please e-mail:

    savemeadow@yahoo.ca