Plans to extend Quebec's Highway 25 would include cutting hundreds of trees, contributing to a significant loss of biodiversity, the province's Transport Ministry shared in an document this week.
Currently, Highway 25 ends just before the town of Saint-Esprit, Qc., about 65 kilometres north-west of Montreal — where it becomes a smaller, two-lane road called Route 125.
The plan proposed by the Legault government would see the 25 extended by expanding Route 125 into a four-lane highway up to the town of Sainte-Julienne, Qc., about another 10 kilometres away. The road would be widened by about 90 metres.
According to a document from the Transport Ministry, where the government is proposing to enlarge the road is a "refuge forest" for vulnerable species. The highway would cut across their habitats.
Residents of the area have previously pushed for the project to be reconsidered, citing environmental concerns.
There have also been calls to abolish Bill 66, which allows certain infrastructure projects to be accelerated by reducing the time required for an environmental assessment. The Highway 25 expansion is one of those projects.
Protective measures in place, says government
The Transport Ministry wrote measures will be put in place to avoid damage to "identified sensitive areas," but noted "some areas will have to be deforested … causing permanent losses."
The document says there are over 880 trees with "precarious conservation status" in the area, including 779 black maple trees.
"It's possible that this will lead to the short-term deterioration of the ecosystem," it notes.
Marc-André Viau, the director of government relations at Équiterre, a non-profit environmental organization based in Quebec, said he's exasperated with the government's assessment.
"This is about the fourth or fifth time they've announced [the extension], so we're not really surprised," he said. "We have seen it before: there is either loss of agricultural land or loss of forest cover."
"Each time, it's a little bit, here and there, but it adds up, and we end up having large pieces of land that can no longer fulfill the ecosystem roles they should," he said.
The government's green policies don't make up for the environmental impacts of these new developments, Viau said.
"As always, I ask: do we really need these road extensions?" Viau said. The expanded highway would lead to more development in the area, in turn leading to increased congestion, he said.
"And we will therefore have to go even further, with even more roads and highways," he said.
The Transport Ministry report also found the highway extension will ultimately have a "positive impact," saying it will reduce current congestion and decrease through-traffic in nearby towns.