OK, this post is going to be of little use to those who don't live in eastern Montreal, unless you are somehow interested to get some idea how life there is.
It is, uninterestingly enough, about a highway.
Montreal is oriented in the southwest-to-northeast orientation. However, northeast is usually called the "east" of the island, because streets run parallel to the island's axis. Same goes for the "north" of the island--it's actually northwest, perpendicular to river St-Laurent's current.
In the middle of the island, there's St-Laurent street, which cuts the island in two parts: the west and the east. The west has traditionally been Anglophone, multicultural, rich, dense, commercial and well-served by major infrastructures (roads, commuter trains, and so on). The east has traditionally been Francophone, mostly white, poor, full of strange empty spaces in the middle of nowhere, industrial and somewhat isolated by poor transport infrastructure.
In recent years, the industries of the east, mostly related to manufacturing jobs, have closed down or moved back to the States. The east of the island turned somewhat commercial with a rather large complex centered on a huge shopping mall, Les Galeries d'Anjou. Around that area, high density building were built. The east became attractive to immigrants, provided they could figure out French reasonably well (Haitians and Vietnamese are a natural fit and a common sight), because property value was much lower and yet the new constructions were reasonably well-built. The trans-canadian highway, known as A-40 in those parts, was prolonged to the end of the island, and the A-25, a north-south highway, was built, linking east of Montreal with the south shore cities of Boucherville and Longueuil.
Actually, it's probably easier to see a map (apologies to the SIA for linking to theirs). Note that the map has an area known as "Centre-Est", which I'll refer to as Hochelaga because it's the "traditional" name.
Other parts of the east became attractive as well, still because of low property costs and reasonable building quality. The formerly half-destroyed Plateau Mont-Royal became so trendy that prices there have become unaffordable, and since west of it is downtown, people are moving east to Rosemont or Hochelaga. Hochelaga is still half-destroyed, but it's slowly becoming more interesting, as young couples move in and renovate the heck out of old duplexes.
Other parts of eastern Montreal are doing OK as well. Anjou is mostly doing well, thanks to north-east Anjou being an industrial park, and thanks to a reasonably efficient town administration. St-Leonard is doing well. Rosemont is doing reasonably well. Some parts of Mercier west are doing quite well, being brought into the orbit of Rosemont. East of A-25 is not doing that great, but services aren't all that bad and property price is ridiculously low.
Overall, eastern Montreal is more affluent than it used to be when compared to western Montreal. The price of properties is still somewhat on the low side. And yet, people fail to flock there. New home-owners consider Longueuil (south shore) or (shudder!) Laval (northwest of Montreal). Why, exactly, is that the case?
I think the equation is very simple. I live in Anjou. East of St-Leonard, it's the best-served burrough in terms of public transportation and road infrastructures (I consider the road infrastructure in the immediate neighborhood to be better designed than that in St-Laurent, which is in western Montreal). I work downtown. It takes me 50 minutes to work with public transportation, roughly 45 without. In St-Laurent, where I was geographically further from downtown, commuter train would take 30 minutes, and driving would take 25 provided there was no traffic (which never happened, but never mind). Times to go downtown from Laval are roughly the same (ok, maybe 40 minutes by bus/metro, but Laval people are way farther from downtown than I am!), and Longueuil residents can make it even faster.
Answer: north Anjou does not have a metro, which it was supposed to have 15 years ago. South Anjou sort of has a metro, provided you don't live too far from A-25. No commuter train at all. Roads? A-40 does not take you downtown; it takes you north of Mt-Royal, and then you have to go down some crowded, busy streets like Parc. Or you can drive all the way to A-15, find yourself in ridiculous traffic, and double back. Or you can take A-25 down to Souligny, cross the Armed Forces base, take Dickson to Notre-Dame, dodge potholes and huge 12-wheelers to A-720, and then finally reach downtown.
Oddly enough, despite sounding way more complicated, that's the fastest way to get downtown. Seriously. Even if there's no traffic on the A-15. This, as they say, sucks.
In the case of a western resident of the island, it's much less annoyance. Take the A-15 to downtown (and you can take it from A-40, A-20 or even A-520, depending which has no traffic that morning). Sure, you get a lot of traffic, but at least there are no traffic lights, so what you lose in traffic you gain in continuously moving. Not a option on Notre-Dame. Laval people just take the A-15 further away. Longueuil residents take the bridge (which does get jammed, to be fair) directly to A-720 and zip downtown.
If you factor in public transportation, the difference is even more marked. Western Montreal has plenty of commuter trains, even if you go geographically farther from downtown than Point-Aux-Trembles is. Laval has commuter trains and is getting a Metro before eastern Montreal, even though that damn Metro station is costing three times more than was expected (and costs are still rising). Longueuil has had the Metro for a long time, and has commuter trains as well. Granted, though, east Laval and east south-shore aren't well served by trains (see this map, and weep). But they have their own east-west highway (Laval has the A-440, south shore has A-20 and A-30) which east Montreal does not have south of A-40. In fact, if you look at the commuter train map, it's painfully obvious that there is no service for the east.
OK, so some of those parts don't have that much population density. But neither did Longueuil when it got the Metro, and Laval, while dense in some parts, has a very sparse population. In any case, they are off the island, and contribute largely to urban sprawl. They are also far.
It is becoming clear to everybody involved at various levels of the government that this is somewhat unfair for denizens of the east. The A-25 already exists in Laval and north of the A-40, but the two sections are not linked. The provincial government has finally decided to build the bridge to link those two sections. Hopefully, it will allow traffic to the Anjou industrial park to possibly take the A-440, thus freeing the A-25/A-40 junction during rush hours (it should be known at this point that the Galeries d'Anjou complex is smack in the middle of the A-25/A-40 junction; it's quite interesting during rush hours, especially since the closest bridge to Laval is all the way west in St-Leonard, clogging the A-40 with huge trucks). Of course, this does not solve the problem of going west from south of the A-40, so the project also implies some rather large changes to Notre-Dame. It was originally planned as a highway, but nobody can make up their minds what to do about it.
This bridge would be a toll bridge. It would probably relieve some pressure to the A-15 and the A-40 (which is already not managing traffic well at all). Less idle engines and all that.
And of course, the first reaction of every environmental group is to decry it as an enemy of substainable development.
OK. Fine. I understand people don't like having huge highways carved into what used to be idyllic fields of grass.1But, I mean, come on! The frickin' A-25 is already pushing north all the way to Henri Bourassa (north of A-40), there's a huge boulevard north of that where people have a really heavy foot on the acceleration pedal, and nothing was built around it for years because it was known that there would be a highway there someday! On the Laval side, the highway is already there and pathetically waits for a bridge to show up! There's huge concrete blocks in the water already, only awaiting for funding to build a full bridge!
Critics then point out that the new A-25 bridge will require changes to Notre-Dame, cutting the south of Notre-Dame off from the rest of the island. This is utterly ridiculous. South of Notre Dame, between Dickson (close to A-25) and the A-720, is the Montreal Harbor. It's a fenced area where only 12-wheelers can get in. Because Notre-Dame is a street instead of a real highway, it's full of potholes from those 12-wheelers and I'm sure a lot of pollution is generated just by the efforts to fix it year after year. You may hate A-720 for cutting off downtown from Old Montreal, but it's not going away, and we might as well do something with it. Turning Notre-Dame into a highway would probably not make noise or pollution much worse for residents immediately north of Notre-Dame, since traffic there is already very bad and full of huge trucks. It may actually improve things, since the highway would be either in a tunnel like A-720 or walled off like A-25 in the Anjou and Mercier areas.
Critics finally point out that we should build a commuter rail to the east instead. I agree that we should build a commuter rail; it's sorely needed. Actually, we should prolong the metro (preferably with at least one station north of A-40), but with the Laval metro costing so much, the AMT has no money for that. The rail is needed anyhow, because the metro won't help Pointe-aux-Trembles or Rivière des Prairies. But the rail also won't cost that much--maybe 20 million or so--because the track is already there, all that's needed is to build train stations. So it's not as if the A-25 bridge is competing, in terms of financing, with the commuter train.
Finally, I'd like to point out that all critics of the A-25 bridge live in Outremont, the Plateau or some other central area of the island. They have no idea how ridiculously isolated eastern Montreal is. From Pointe-aux-Trembles, it takes 1 hour 20 minutes to get downtown! From east Laval, don't even think about it--not only you'll waste time and gas driving to the A-15, but then you'll be stuck there for at least an hour in traffic, and you'll then have to double back on the A-720! At this point, any development is welcome. Eastern Montrealers hope that starting to build any of these projects will probably get the others built as well.
I'd also like to point out that although the bridge will be expensive, so was renovating the Acadie circle, and so are the repairs to the A-40 brought by ridiculous amounts of traffic. But nobody yelled when those were done. Of course not--those were needed. The fact that many of those people who don't want Notre-Dame to become a real highway nor the A-25 bridge to exist at all live in Outremont is surely a coincidence.2
What really pisses me off about all this, though, is that such concerns were never raised when Laval or Longueuil was to get its infrastructures. The metro eventually followed, because the roads were too congested. But now that eastern Montreal would finally get decent infrastructures, which would probably help develop it (there's a lot of mis-used space there--much more than in dense, crowded western Montreal), all of the sudden, those concerns show up. OK, fine, some of them have some validity to them--why don't you lobby for a damn commuter train and for a damn Metro line, instead of against a bridge?
Deep within myself, I believe that nobody really cares about eastern Montreal. Nobody has cared about it for the longest time.3 I hope that will change. It's easy to yell about new infrastructure being non eco-friendly when you have your infrastructure already built. Sort of like industrialized countries going all sanctimonious on developing countries about pollution, but not being willing to share more efficient technology with them, or to sell it at a lower price. It's also really idiotic to yell like this before the whole project is known; for all we know, the government may be planning a light rail line on that bridge! I don't always agree with the Charest government, but I hope that in this case, it will not back down. We've been waiting for that bridge for 30 years. It's high time eastern Montreal and eastern Laval got the chance to show off their potential.4
1 I'm being sarcastic here. The only fields above A-40 in the A-25 axis is full of weeds, power lines, and is crossed by a railroad. It's not idyllic at all, and if it's not contaminated by idiots dumping stuff there, it certainly is by the PCBs that were used at a time to isolate power lines.
2 I'm not trying to single out people living in Outremont here. But one of the people who utterly destroyed the Notre-Dame project is the current mayor of the city, Gerald Tremblay. He lives in Outremont. He feels Notre-Dame would cut off part of the island. He's obviously never been east of Papineau; there's nothing south of Notre-Dame there, except a harbour and lots of contaminated soil. I suspect those writing editorials against the bridge live west or close to St-Laurent. They obviously don't know that a) the highway is already there, we're only talking about a bridge; b) the Anjou industrial park is not developing as well as it could because of this silly highway configuration; c) east Montreal is not going to get a metro because Laval got theirs and it was too expensive.
3 I suppose a sensible question to ask me at this point would be, "why did you move to eastern Montreal if it's so isolated?" The answer is, I'm not really that annoyed by long transit. But those living in Rivière des Prairies or Pointe-aux-Trembles are not amused. Also, I wanted to find a place I could afford. Finally, I grew up in eastern Montreal, and it's an area I really like. I realize that I wouldn't have had such a good deal if the area had full infrastructure; but now that I'm there, I'd selfishly like it to show up.
4 Especially since east Montreal and east Laval are being neglected in favor of much farther places like Deux-Montagnes or northwest Laval, since those have good highway access. Having cars travel 45 KM instead of 20 is certainly not an improvement in terms of pollution. I'd much rather have east Montreal settled than those places, and it's not happening because of lack of access. Perversely, I think the lack of bridge, rail and decent Notre-Dame highway encourages urban sprawl; critics say the opposite, that keeping the east of the island isolated will counter urban sprawl. Well, people don't care about theories; they just go to St-Eustache or Deux-Montagne, or they go to Longueuil and emit thousands of tons of carbon waiting on Jacques-Cartier or Champlain bridge.