Allison Hanes: New transit line for southwest Montreal is an important test for ARTM

Residents are invited to help shape the first project the agency has been charged with managing from the earliest stages since it was created in 2017.

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An extension of the métro to 32nd Ave. in Lachine?

A tramway from Dorval to downtown?

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A dedicated rapid bus route along Newman or de la Vérendrye Blvd.?

Residents of a broad swath of Montreal’s southwest can do more than dream about a major expansion of public transit in their enclaved, dense and growing corner of the city — they are being invited to give input to help shape an eventual project.

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Starting this week until Feb. 11, the Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain is conducting public consultations on six scenarios for a new transit line in the wider Sud-Ouest. Five involve either a tramway or rapid bus link along various routes and distances. One proposes a métro extension from the Green Line’s Angrignon station.

The 85-square-kilometre area under study stretches from Dorval in the west to downtown Montreal in the east, and includes the boroughs of Lachine, LaSalle, Verdun, Ville-Marie and Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, as well as the municipalities of Montreal West and Westmount. Almost 20 per cent of the city’s population lives in this zone, which is expected to grow by a projected 27,000 residents over the next 20 years. Yet this part of the city is poorly served by public transit.

However, because of physical barriers — including the Falaise St-Jacques, Highway 20, the rail corridor and the Lachine Canal — the concepts put forth by the ARTM focus on the southernmost districts: Verdun, LaSalle, Lachine and Dorval.

“These are the realities of the territory we have to work with,” said Patrick Charpentier, the project manager for the ARTM. “We have to make proposals that are realistic and doable.”

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Map showing potential routes proposed by the ARTM linking métro stations to LaSalle, Lachine and Dorval

The ARTM has inherited other files along the way, including responsibility for the project formerly known as the REM de l’Est after the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec’s infrastructure arm pulled out over social acceptability concerns.

Last year, the ARTM proposed a $36-billion métro line to the east end as a replacement for CDPQ Infra’s controversial elevated light-rail line. Premier François Legault immediately dismissed it as “unrealistic” because of the cost. The ARTM later countered with an alternative: a $13-billion tramway.

Starting from scratch in the southwest, Charpentier said the ARTM’s goal is not only to define the best trajectory and mode of transport based on the needs of the population through the consultations, but to achieve a plan that is socially acceptable from the outset.

It’s obvious that extending the métro from Angrignon in LaSalle, the westernmost stop on the Green Line, to Galeries Lachine at 32nd Ave. would offer the most efficient service. Travel between the two points is estimated at 15 minutes, with the addition of four to six stations covering 8.5 kilometres. But this is also likely to be the most expensive option.

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A rapid bus line or tramway reaching as far west as Dorval would probably be much cheaper to build and provide access to more places, like CEGEP André-Laurendeau, LaSalle Hospital, the airport and its surrounding industrial parks. But projected travel times are much longer — up to 55 minutes to get from Gare Dorval intermodal station to Square-Victoria–OACI métro along a 22-kilometre route with 37 stops. That could undermine the attractiveness of taking transit and make the investment less worthwhile.

There is no price tag yet attached to any of the proposals. That will come as the ARTM analyzes all the information from the consultations and formulates a recommendation for the Quebec government and city of Montreal by the end of 2024.

Mayor Valérie Plante was elected in 2017 on a seemingly improbable pitch to build a new Pink Line of the métro, cutting a diagonal from Lachine in the southwest to Montreal North in the northeast. Many dismissed that $6-billion plan as wishful (and costly) thinking, but Plante tapped into a hunger and a need for new public transit lines to make getting around congested Montreal easier.

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Now versions of her idea are being actively considered — albeit in different iterations, with different names and much heftier price tags. Plante has been quick to brand proposals for both the east and west of the island as the Pink Line.

But whatever people want to call it, the most important thing for Montrealers is that new infrastructure gets built.

And a new transit line for the city’s southwest may be a few steps closer to reality than most dared hope.

[email protected]

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