Quebec figures call on government to drop Montreal light-rail project

Quebec figures call on government to drop Montreal light-rail project

Nearly two dozen figures from environmental and public transit groups across Quebec are calling on the province to abandon a $6.3-billion light-rail project (REM) planned for the Montreal area.

In an open letter obtained by La Presse Canadienne Friday and set to appear in local newspapers on Saturday, the signatories say that despite the REM's steep price tag, it will not reduce traffic and makes only a minor dent to air pollution.

Air pollution would only go down by 0.1 per cent as a result of the project, the letter states.

A subsidiary of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec is responsible for the REM project.

It involves building a commuter line from Deux-Montagnes to Brossard, passing through Montreal and including several stops in the West Island.

'We're in an election campaign'

André Belisle, president of the Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique, a provincial environmental group, is one of the letter's signatories.

He said he believes the Quebec government only approved the REM project to gain political points.

"When you can't find a reason on the table, you have to look under it; we're in an election campaign," Belisle said in a telephone interview with La Presse Canadienne Friday afternoon.

The Liberal government has been accused by members of the opposition Parti Québécois of favouring projects that benefit the western part of the island, which is home to ridings held by government ministers that pushed to have REM stops, La Presse newspaper reported.

"Every time that we've wanted to force projects down peoples' throats, it was for special interests, not for the interests of Quebec," Belisle said.

Construction set to begin

A groundbreaking ceremony for the REM took place last week, as the line is expected to be partially operational as soon as 2021.

Later this month, service on the existing Deux-Montagnes commuter train line will be interrupted on weekends to begin work on the project.

The letter's signatories said it wasn't too late to change course, however, and find another solution.

They say they want an alternative plan put forward by the Parti Québécois to be pursued instead, should the party win the provincial election this fall.

For a similar price, that project would better serve the entire Montreal metropolitan area, especially the eastern part of the island and the Montérégie, and would help get 133,000 motorists off the roads, the letter said.