From tramway to 3rd link, election gives commuters chance to shape Quebec City's future

Quebec City's tramway is expected to go through 13 neighbourhoods. After years of uncertainty, the project received the greenlight from the Legault government last April.  (City of Quebec - image credit)
Quebec City's tramway is expected to go through 13 neighbourhoods. After years of uncertainty, the project received the greenlight from the Legault government last April. (City of Quebec - image credit)

Tansportation is emerging as a major election issue in the Quebec City region, as parties looking to win votes clash on public transit solutions.

A tramway project, which saw years of uncertainty before the Legault government finally gave it the green light last April, is one of Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand's top priorities.

The tramway, which would run through the city east to west, is part of Coalition Avenir Québec's public transit vision for the capital region. Quebec City and the Lévis area are considered a CAQ stronghold.

At dissolution, François Legault's party held nine of the 11 ridings on the north shore of the St. Lawrence and all seven ridings across the river.

The region is also where the CAQ could face stiff competition from the Conservative Party of Quebec (PCQ), which has taken a firm stance against the tramway. It is vowing to make the city's buses free instead.

Éric Duhaime, the CPQ's leader, is vying to win a seat in the Chauveau riding, which is made up of boroughs and municipalities in and around Quebec City.

The Parti Québécois (PQ), the Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ) and Québec Solidaire (QS) have all come out in favour of the project, with the latter two parties proposing to extend the future route of the tramway to the Charlesbourg borough, in the city's northeast.

Olivier Bouchard/Radio-Canada
Olivier Bouchard/Radio-Canada

Quebec City resident Isham Lamrani said the tramway would facilitate transportation within the city and help elevate its status as a large metropolis.

"I get around with public transportation, so [the] tramway will be beneficial for me," said Lamrani, who moved to the city two years ago.

Some voters in the region are firmly opposed to it, saying a light-rail train or electric buses would be better.

"This project will destroy Quebec City, which is a beautiful city," said Donald Charette, a spokesperson for a citizens group Québec Mérite Mieux which is trying to stop the tramway from being built.

Charette said he is concerned about the number of trees the city will have to cut down for it.

Franca Mignacca/CBC
Franca Mignacca/CBC

Resident Nora Loreto, who along with her partner founded a new citizens' group that supports the tramway, says the city needs more public transit options.

The couple is subject to the constant sound of traffic as cars and buses pass in front of their living room window on a busy artery in the Montcalm neighbourhood.

"If we continue to pretend that a city that was built for horse and buggy can take more and more cars and build more highways that brings more cars into the downtown — it's ridiculous," she said. "There's obviously a limit to that."

The group, Québec désire son tramway, was created before the election call and it is not taking sides with any party, she says.

Legault sticks to 3rd link project despite criticism

The CAQ's proposed transit plan for the capital region also includes a controversial underwater tunnel called the third link, which would connect Quebec City to Lévis on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River.

Estimated to cost up to $7 billion, the project was one of Legault's electoral promises in the 2018 provincial campaign. The outgoing premier says the tunnel will reduce congestion on the two bridges that link the two shores.

Legault is still fiercely clinging to the project but he is facing opposition from the other parties and some voters.

Louis-Joseph Couturier, a Quebec resident who uses his bike to get around, said he is concerned about the environmental effects of building an underwater tunnel and having more cars on the road.

"I think it's a terrible idea," he said. "It's just going to bring more traffic, more cars into the city, and I don't think that's what Quebec City needs."

Heather Clibbon-Côté, who lives in Lévis, is also opposed to the third link. She would like to see a tramway built between the two shores instead, which is what the provincial Liberals are proposing.

Clibbon-Côté commutes by bus because the traffic is so bad. But even then, she said it takes her over an hour to get from her house to her parents' place in Quebec City.

"That's a little bit of a problem, and it's a good thing I'm not on a tight schedule," she said.

Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC
Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC

David Christopher, the mayor of Beaumont, a small town east of Lévis, called Legault's proposed tunnel "a necessity."

"Finally something is going to be done about the third link, about the transportation side," he said.

Christopher said there are a lot of farmers in his region who have to go to Quebec City regularly, but the options to get there are limited. Many people in Beaumont also work in the capital and have to commute every day.

Taking the bridge, especially in the morning, can sometimes mean Beaumont residents are stuck in traffic for several hours, he said. Just last Wednesday, his wife had to wait for more than two hours to cross the bridge on her way to work.

Franca Mignacca/CBC
Franca Mignacca/CBC

The Beaumont mayor said he also wouldn't be opposed to the Quebec Conservatives' proposal to connect the two shores by building a second bridge that would go through Île d'Orleans, an island just east of Quebec City.

Québec Solidaire remains firmly against building new infrastructure between the two shores. It's proposing to stick to the existing bridges and to put in place a rapid-bus service that would use a reserved priority lane.

Meanwhile, the PQ is proposing a light-rail train between Quebec City and Lévis, which it says would cost between $4 and $5 billion.