Six environmental organizations and groups lobbying for public transit are calling on the province to cancel a proposed tunnel that would link Quebec City to Lévis, citing concerns for the environment.
The provincial government announced Monday that Quebec City would be getting a tunnel linking the city's downtown sector with the nearby municipality of Lévis.
The tunnel, which has been dubbed the "third link," is projected to cost between $7 billion and $10 billion and is slated to be completed by 2031.
The coalition of six groups, which calls itself Non au troisième lien and includes the David Suzuki Foundation, Équiterre and Vivre en Ville, has launched a petition calling on the province to put an end to the proposed third link.
While the government has touted the project as a means to encourage residents to use public transit, the coalition says the tunnel would do the exact opposite of that and would actually lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
"This project presents itself as a public transit project but, for us, this is smoke and mirrors," said Christian Savard, director general of Vivre en Ville, a group that promotes sustainable communities.
"It's green washing, transit washing, of a project that's essentially a highway."
The Quebec-Lévis tunnel would consist of two levels of three lanes each. One lane in each direction would be reserved for public transit and carpooling.
Charles Bonhomme, spokesperson for the David Suzuki Foundation, says there are also major concerns regarding the ways in which the tunnel could harm marine wildlife.
"We have to remember that a tunnel is bad for the environment — even if it's for public transport," said Bonhomme. "It's bad for wildlife in the St. Lawrence River."
No current issues with bridge traffic, groups say
While the government claims the tunnel will ease major traffic issues on the Quebec and Pierre Laporte bridges, the coalition says the data simply does not back that up.
In an interview with CBC's Breakaway Tuesday, Transport Minister François Bonnardel estimated that, by the time the tunnel is fully built, between 50,000 and 55,000 people would be using it daily.
But the coalition estimates that number to be somewhere between 9,000 and 25,000 people daily.
"There is no need for this project," said Alexandre Turgeon, president of Vivre en Ville. "There are only 21,000 cars between 6 and 9 a.m. coming from the south shore to the north shore, and our two bridges can actually accommodate 30,000 cars every morning."
Turgeon believes the real problem is that too many cars try to travel to Quebec City within the same 20-minute window every morning, and doesn't believe the third link would resolve that.
If anything, he says, the tunnel will just encourage people to use their cars and would therefore increase traffic and increase urban sprawl.
And the coalition says there are already three links between Quebec City and Lévis, if you factor in the ferry that runs between the cities and the two bridges.
Budget could be used elsewhere, says coalition
The coalition says the $10-billion price tag is also a major issue. With that budget, the group says the province could instead build 978 new schools, 39 new hospitals and 84,000 social housing units.
"It's really a lot of money for not that many people," said Marc-André Viau of Équiterre. "I think there are other needs in the province that the government should address, and they're not doing so by putting all their eggs in the same basket."
But Bonnardel stands by the project. He says the province's plan to make all buses electric by 2025 will make up for greenhouse gas emission concerns.
He added that this project is the province's way of righting past wrongs.
"The mistake is having two important bridges on the west side of Quebec," said Bonnardel. "I think Quebec needs this tunnel to ameliorate and have more fluidity"
Bonnardel also said he will work with his colleagues to minimize the enviromental impact and figure out ways to prevent further urban sprawl.