Imagine Chantal Rouleau at Igloofest. It’s an image that doesn’t quite fit with the political woman’s demeanour. And yet, the Minister Responsible for the Metropolis and the Montréal Region was, indeed, there . . . and she had a blast! It’s with a sparkle in her eyes that she recounts the previous evening spent with Igloofest organizers.
Born at Sainte-Justine Hospital, Chantal Rouleau is a Montrealer through and through, and has lived in many different neighbourhoods over the years. She points out that our Premier also lives in the city, along with “half the Cabinet.”
“Montreal represents 50% of the province’s GDP,” says Rouleau. “It’s a driving force. If the city isn’t faring well, then the rest of Quebec is also suffering.” The Minister for Transport shares a common obsession with Mayor Valérie Plante: mobility. Bridges, tunnels, major arterial roads . . . transport in the Greater Montreal region is her priority. “We know traffic is heavy, but in just a few years, we’re going to experience a complete overhaul when it comes to mobility, both in and around Montreal.”
An hour into the interview, any notion that our government is obsessed with the use of cars is overruled by Rouleau repeatedly asserting that their vision for our city focuses on public transport.
For Rouleau, a vocal advocate for the REM—“an ultramodern electric train that will access the downtown core every two and a half minutes”— the public transport project represents an additional 100,000 commutes daily. “That’s 50,000 people per commute; we’re getting more cars off our roads,” she proudly points out.
Rouleau estimates that the REM will “unclog the east section of the metro’s orange line, which is pretty congested at certain times throughout the day.” And that’s without counting the repairs being done to Côte-Vertu station, which in her opinion will allow for better fluidity on that line, as well as an increase in train frequency.
There’s also the Pie-IX BRT project, which will connect the metro’s blue and orange lines. She decided to extend the line to Notre-Dame Street, with the goal of eventually establishing a train or tramway on Notre-Dame.
The minister, who was also Mayor of the Rivière-des-Prairies—Pointe-aux-Trembles borough, has given herself a 5-year timeline to correct the less-than-acceptable situation in the east and ease downtown traffic. “We asked the Caisse de dépôt to evaluate Notre-Dame, from downtown to the tip of the island and Rivière-des-Prairies, and confirm the feasibility of a modern and electric transport structure,” explains Rouleau. “It won’t be called a tramway, or a REM; we’re not giving it a name just yet. The technology will be presented to us, in due course, by the Caisse de dépôt, which was mandated for this study.”
All this in addition to the metro’s blue line extension to Anjou, a project slated to be finished in 2026. And it’s only the beginning, seeing as Minister Rouleau is still waiting on test results in regards to creating “modern and electric” modes of transport towards Lachine, Chambly, Longueuil, Brossard, and Laval.
“Yes, roadwork can be frustrating,” agrees Rouleau. But as the saying goes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Rouleau even suggests “using the shells to build something else,” which perfectly sums up her plan of action: “we need to act, not just sit back and watch the train pass us by.”
“It forces us to come up with and implement innovative long-term solutions, such as reserved lanes, carpooling systems, and waterway shuttles to and from the downtown area.” Waterway shuttles—looks like the cat’s out of the bag. In fact, Rouleau has made it her personal mission to implement a year-round network. No less than 60,000 people took part in last summer’s pilot project, commuting between Pointe-aux-Trembles and the Old Port.
“Montreal is an island, the city was created thanks to the river,” points out Rouleau. “It’s a system that can easily and effortlessly run 8 to 10 months out of the year. And during the colder months, we can either cease service or use icebreakers.”
She believes that “we need to connect Montreal to the South Shore by way of a ferry, just like in New York.”
So what will Montreal look like in 20 years? “No one will be talking about traffic anymore, but rather about active and collective mobility. It’s going to be an even more inviting city, based on a green economy and know-how.”
Watch a video of Chantal Rouleau’s top places to visit downtown!
Text : Marilyse Hamelin
Cover picture : Jocelyn Michel