No desire for a streetcar: Why Lévis residents don't care much for Quebec City's planned tramway

No desire for a streetcar: Why Lévis residents don't care much for Quebec City's planned tramway

The excitement over Quebec City's new $3-billion transit system seems to stop at the St. Lawrence River's northern shoreline. 

The new transit plan, unveiled on Friday, doesn't include a connection to Lévis, where 27,000 people commute into the capital every morning by car, bus or ferry.

Not that many people in Lévis wanted one anyway. They would have preferred the money go toward building more roads connecting them to Quebec City.  

"I'm much more interested in a third link than a tramway," said Guillaume Thivierge as he rode the ferry from Quebec City to his home in Lévis after work one evening last week. 

Thivierge was referring to the ongoing debate about whether to build a third bridge or a tunnel between Quebec City and communities like Lévis, on the other side of the river. 

South shore commuters have grown exasperated with the rush-hour traffic jams that come with getting in the city. 

Thivierge prefers to take the ferry to get to his downtown office. He said he'd only consider switching to a bus or tramline if it cut down on his 60-minute commute.

Clashing visions

He is not alone feeling tepid about the proposed tramway. Even Quebec City residents are ambivalent.

An online survey conducted by SOM for Cogeco Nouvelles in January suggested 66 per cent of Quebec City residents were in favour of a third link to cross over the St. Lawrence River. Only half approved of a tramway.

Given a choice between the two, a majority of the 1,100 people polled would take a bridge or a tunnel over a streetcar.

This ambivalence, on both sides of the water, plagued Mayor Régis Labeaume's previous efforts to upgrade Quebec City's public transit system. 

The first public consultations on expanding the city's public transit supply were held in 2009. Last year he seemed close to finally securing support for building a rapid bus network, which would have included a link between Lévis and Quebec City, helping ease congestion on the bridges.

But at the last minute Lévis Mayor Gilles Lehouillier backed out of the project, citing concerns over cost.

Labeaume returned to the drawing board and is now forging ahead with a plan that doesn't include a south shore link. 

Lehouillier appeared caught off guard that his municipality was left out. 

"How could it be that a project that didn't exist during the last [municipal] election campaign, now suddenly has $3 billion," he said.  

Unlike Labeaume, Lehouillier is a firm backer of a so-called third link. The two have clashed over their opposing infrastructure visions for years.

Lehouillier, moreover, resents the Quebec government's willingness to back the tramway project without making similar commitments to a third link.

"This is a two speed government," Lehouillier said Friday after the tramway plans were announced. "High speed for the city, and slow, super-slow, for the rural areas of Quebec." 

​​Lévis will be holding an a special council meeting on Monday to figure out a way to press for another link with Quebec City.


Still hopeful for a third link

On Friday, Premier Philippe ​Couillard said he was open to ensuring Lévis was connected to the tramway circuit.

He also indicated his government was still in favour of building a third link, even though urban planners fear it will worsen urban sprawl.

The Liberals are spending $20 million on a feasibility study of such a link, but have also sought to cool speculation construction will start anytime soon.

Lévis residents, meanwhile, are hopeful politicians will be able to put their differences aside, and sooner rather than later.

"The choices are very limited when you want to go to the central part of Quebec City from Lévis. I waste a lot of time," said Maxime McKenzie while on the ferry home to Lévis.

He moved from Quebec City to Lévis a year ago, and said he has trouble getting around without a car.

"I feel like it's two distinct worlds, there's maybe a lack of communication between both shores," he said.