Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Joy of Quebec Infrastructure

Today, I had to drive to and from the Laurentian mountains north of Montreal since that is where my kid goes to summer camp and today is visiting day.  Since we moved to Ottawa, we had to take a different route, one that illustrated the mess that is public planning in Quebec.  We drove on Autoroute 50 (mess #1) and went past Mirabel airport (mess #2).

Autoroute 50 is not complete, so one has to get off and take ordinary roads through towns and rural areas before getting back on.  But an unfinished highway is hardly unique to Quebec (although this province does seem to take far longer than most).  No, it is the design I want to whine about.  An autoroute has a blue shield not unlike a US Interstate:

One would then expect a divided highway with two lanes on either side.  But nay, that is not the case.  It seemed like it averaged three lanes, with each direction taking turns having a passing lane.  This makes sense if one remembers that roads in Quebec cost 30% more to build due to, well, corruption.  30% would be, well, the fourth lane, right?  So, instead of having smooth flow, we had to wait for the short passing lanes to hustle past the trucks and other vehicles that moved much slower.  Why build a big highway but not provide the minimum number of lanes to provide for smooth flow and less hurried passing?

It is fitting that A-50 goes by perhaps the most obvious mistake in the history of Quebec infrastructure: Mirabel airport.  Driving past it today, we were struck by how beautiful the terminal appeared to be (it starred in at least one movie [The Terminal with Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta Jones] and perhaps others) and by the flora growing through the parking lot of the hotel.  The latter reminds me of the previews for Revolution, the new TV show in the fall that will take place 15 years after all the power goes out.  The airport is a significant distance from Montreal but was built to replace Dorval Airport (Trudeau airport) which was seen as too small, hemmed in by the western suburbs.  It was supposed to be THE montreal airport for international travel, but there were never any links, other than highways, built to move people back and forth.  So, it essentially died, to be used only for cargo, for Bombardier airplane manufacturing, and general aviation.  In other words, a colossal waste of money and effort.

I knew of the Mirabel story before today, but this was the first time I drove past the "facility" and marveled at the site.

Sure, we had some great crepes near my daughter's camp, but this trip reminded us of one of the reasons we are pretty happy to have moved west.  Quebec has historically been mighty messed up when it comes to planning, building and maintaining infrastructure.  Given how much stuff needs to be torn down and rebuilt between where I lived and where I worked and played (ultimate and skiing), I could not have any confidence that any of that construction would work out well.  They still haven't figured out how to connect the airport that is near downtown with downtown.  Oy.

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