When Premier François Legault announced his plans for a tunnel connecting Quebec City to Lévis earlier this week, he claimed the project would not only benefit residents of the two cities, but would also be "necessary" for "a good part of eastern Quebec."
The tunnel, which has been dubbed the third link, is projected to cost between $7 billion and $10 billion and could take up to 10 years to complete. It will consist of six lanes divided into two levels — one level for each direction.
One lane in each direction will be reserved for buses.
Several environmental groups have criticized the project, questioning whether it is actually necessary.
Now, PQ MNA Pascal Bérubé and several municipal leaders are adding their voices to the mix.
Bérubé, who represents the Matane-Matapédia riding in the province's Lower Saint-Lawrence region, is calling on the premier to stop using eastern Quebec as an "excuse" to defend his project.
"I still do not understand how this project is wanted, expected or necessary for eastern Quebec," said Bérubé.
"It is false to claim the third link is a project for eastern Quebec. I invite the government to stop saying it, and to stop using eastern Quebec as an excuse for this project."
Bérubé said he has yet to see any evidence the project would serve residents in eastern Quebec, and is asking the province to make any such evidence public if it exists.
He argues eastern Quebec residents would be better served if the government used that budget to instead extend Highway 20 to Mont-Joli.
North Shore mayors call for 'first link'
For Réjean Porlier, mayor of Sept-Îles, hearing the premier say the third link would benefit residents of eastern Quebec was like a slap in the face.
"Don't say it's for the east," said Porlier. "Don't use us to justify the third line."
Porlier and residents in the Lower North Shore have been calling for an extension to Highway 138 for decades.
"We've waited decades and decades for them to finish the only road we have — the 138 to Blanc-Sablon," said Porlier.
Porlier says he understands the need to further develop the Quebec City area, but says the province should first look at giving other regions the "bare minimum" in transit options.
He says the North Shore would also benefit more from a bridge over the Saguenay River at Tadoussac.
Baie-Comeau Mayor Yves Montigny is not necessarily against the third link, but would like the premier to clarify what he meant by it being "necessary" for parts of eastern Quebec.
Montigny says it's been three years since the Lower Saint-Lawrence and the North Shore have had any reliable means of transport to each other across the St. Lawrence river.
"Our first link is the F.A. Gauthier," he said, discouraged.
The F.A. Gauthier, the ferry that services the Matane-Godbout-Baie-Comeau crossing, has been plagued with issues over the years.
According to Antonio Hortas, president of the Chambre de commerce et d'industrie de Manicouagan, the ferry has only actually been in service 30 per cent of the time this past year.
"There's a lot of delays in transport, the incapacity of having goods delivered in due time in the North Shore and east of Quebec," said Hortas.
"We had companies that had to go six to seven to eight hours doing a detour to get to their clients because of that."