The Société du Havre — you remember, that quasi-private sinecure created to give failed second-tier Liberal hacks and dour, hectoring bankers a shot at drawing up pie-in-the-sky plans to redevelop the river itselfis at it again. (via Montreal City — she’s on it, people. Peep game.) They’ve dug up their plans to replace the Bonaventure Expressway with skyscrapers nobody needs, in a place where nobody wants to put any.

According to the preliminary report released last fall, it would be replaced with a row of high-rises, hemmed in between two enormous four-lane one-way streets — shit, I’m sorry, urban boulevards — with the whole ensemble wedged between the raggedy-assed back end of the Faubourg des Récollets — wait, wrong again, it’s the “Cité du multimédia” — and the railway viaduct that leads into Bonaventure Station. The project would cut traffic capacity on this crowded corridor by about 30%, which is a mixture of a problem and a good thing, and the proposal suggests that someone else take measures somewhere else to deal with it. It’s not my externality that I refuse to pay for, it’s another agency’s challenge, you see.

The justification for the whole exercise is that the existing elevated structure, which is pushing 40, requires $120 million in repairs. The SDH just kind of puts it out there that hey, if you’re already spending $120 million, why not spend $533 million to build a new bridge (as seen in the rendering above, a grossly unrealistic barely-visible little hairsbreadth of a Calatrava contraption), or better yet, $768 million to build a tunnel? Half a billion here, half a billion there. There’s likely a hellbroth of contaminated soil underground, but again that’s someone else’s expense and someone else’s problem. As is reworking the surface streets. And acquiring the land. And reconfiguring the underground utilities. So $768 million isn’t an estimate of the total costs, it’s the bottom end of a range of costs that soars upward from there, its pinnacle lost somewhere in the mists far above.

Why do this? Well, using optimistic forecasts for the next 20 years, downtown Montreal will develop 560,000 square metres of office space and 8-12,000 condominiums. If the city could, somehow, force 40% of that to happen in the Bonaventure corridor — remember, this is the growth that would occur elsewhere downtown if the project wasn’t built at all — the expense of redeveloping it would be exceeded by the tax revenue generated by the development. The argment, therefore, is effectively that the project will have no real economic impact beyond the expense of executing it; if the development was going to happen anyway, on land that doesn’t cost a billion dollars to clear, why shunt it here?

The SDH final report on the overall waterfront project is well worth reading as a stunning catalog of terrible ideas, a list of projects that are as destructive and expensive as they are nonsensical and useless, and that is too long to go into here. (Put a hydro dam in the St. Lawrence to create a boating area! Trams from nowhere to nowhere!) The only thing lucid about this proposal is the beaming pride it takes in its complete lack of social and environmental relevance.

The Montreal Harbourfront – Final Report and Reccomendations

L’autoroute Bonaventure – Vision 2025


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