Ongoing efforts to reconnect Montrealers with their waterfront have received a significant boost, with the federal government announcing C$282 million towards repurposing the Bonaventure Expressway as a tree-lined urban boulevard for pedestrians and cyclists.
In a major reconfiguration of traffic flow, 2½ kilometres of expressway along the St. Lawrence River will be shifted 35 metres inland, to be supplanted by waterfront bicycle lanes, walking paths, and some “650 trees, 18,000 shrubs, and thousands of perennial flowers and other plants” to protect biodiversity in the area and reduce heat islands, reports CBC News.
At a news conference announcing the project in December, federal Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez explained the “complete transformation” planned for the expressway: “We’re going to make it greener, we’re going to beautify. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be cool.”
After all, “Bonaventure was built in 1966. I was born in 1967. Some things age better than others,” he said.
Speed limits will be reduced from 70 to 50 km/h, writes CBC, and two sets of traffic lights will further encourage drivers to make less haste.
The revitalization work will begin in 2025, with a completion date pegged at 2029, according to the Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Corporation, the Crown corporation that owns the expressway. The project will run from Gaétan-Laberge Boulevard to just past the Victoria Bridge, reports the Montreal Gazette.
Recalling the origin of the Bonaventure Expressway, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) writes that the road was originally purpose-built for speedy access to Expo 67, the world fair that marked Canada’s centennial. But it outlived its usefulness immediately afterwards, becoming more a fast track to urban blight that “ensnared future waterfront development, significantly isolated the struggling neighbourhood of Griffintown on its western edge, and ultimately paved the way for an auto-oriented downtown.”
Citing past comment in the Montreal Gazette, the CNU describes the expressway as “a drab entry point for motorists arriving from the South Shore, a no man’s land for pedestrians at ground level, and an unattractive zone for developers.”
Efforts to rescue the city from this expressway entanglement have been ongoing at least since 2002, when the non-profit organization Société du Havre de Montréal (SHM) formed to oversee the redevelopment of the Montreal harbour front, aiming to “launch the reunification, on a human scale, of the downtown area with its river,” CNU adds.
“The idea of reappropriating our shores has always been at the heart of our work, of our aspirations for Montrealers,” Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante told the news conference announcing the project. “We’re on an island. We have a mountain in the middle, but we’re surrounded by water, and it’s nice to feel it.”
The new project comes 10 years after then-Montreal mayor Denis Coderre announced a plan to replace an elevated span of the expressway then running between de la Commune St. and Notre-Dame St. with ground-level lanes, green spaces, and bike and pedestrian corridors.
Completed in 2017 at a cost of $140 million, the refurbished roadway was named Robert-Bourassa Boulevard, ironically running far enough north to intersect with what might be considered its political and stylistic opposite, René-Lévesque Boulevard.