Just ask Michel Asselin’s horses: Their quiet home is about to get a lot busier.
Asselin, who lives on Chemin du Fleuve in Les Cèdres, has a front-row seat to the largest infrastructure project undertaken by the province in decades.
The latest expansion of Highway 30 passes literally through the backyard of his hobby farm, with part of his property expropriated to make room for the autoroute. His horse barn nearly hangs over the immense trench where the new road sits, overlooking the 14-lane toll plaza. Part of the southern part of his property was also expropriated in order to make way for the new bridge — a 1.86-kilometre span across the St. Lawrence River.
“When they first started construction, the horses were pretty agitated. Now, I think they’re getting used to it,” said Asselin’s wife, Diane Lamontagne. “But I think there will be a lot of noise when the highway finally opens.”
Asselin, however, who has been a municipal councillor, and a contractor working to maintain the cranes used to construct the bridge, takes it all in stride.
“They chose the best route possible,” Asselin said last week, sitting at the kitchen table at the back of his old farmhouse. “It makes the most sense; I actually advocated for this route.”
He added other proposed routes would have seen the bridge built through deeper portions of the river, or the road would have cut through neighbourhoods, meaning major expropriations.
While Asselin, Lamontagne and their horses may be the most directly affected by the new highway, which will include two lanes in either direction, the $1.5-billion project more than 45 years in the making will have major implications for the whole region. On the island of Montreal, traffic from large trucks is expected to decrease, as they bypass the island to travel between Ontario and the U.S. border. People who regularly commute between Boucherville and Vaudreuil-Dorion, will shave between 23 and 31 minutes off their trip, and the area will see economic benefits as it becomes a major transport hub. In Montreal, it’s estimated 5,000 transporter trucks per day and 12,000 private vehicles will be diverted from the island’s congested roadways.
The new highway will be managed by a private company called Nouvelle Autoroute 30 s.e.n.c. (NA30), led by Spanish-based companies Acciona and Iridium, which will get 30 years to collect tolls before turning the autoroute back to the government. The private company was given $1.5 billion from the provincial government, which it must pay back with revenue collected from tolls. After that amount is paid back, the company must continue to maintain the highway, and it will continue to earn revenue from the tolls.
While the highway will save drivers time, all vehicles will be slowed down by the toll booths, which won’t use newer technology to automate the fee collection process.
The provincial government specifically asked NA30 that the toll system not use the technology in place on the new Highway 25 bridge from Laval to Montreal or the 407 Express Highway near Toronto. Those highways have cameras that photograph the licence plate of the vehicles. Bills are then sent to motorists by mail. Regular users of the highways can pay a flat rate and buy transponders to avoid pay-per-use fees.
Caroline Larose, a spokesperson for Transport Quebec, said the province wanted to ensure a system was in place to allow occasional users to pay on the spot with cash or credit cards.
“A lot of the traffic will be inter-regional and international, so this was our wish,” she said, adding there will be many occasional users, compared with the Highway 25 bridge, which is used predominantly by commuters during rush hour.
Larose wouldn’t say why the automated toll system was insufficient.
Isabelle Malboeuf, a spokesperson for NA30, explained that each of the toll booths will have gates, so every car and truck will have to slow down to pay the toll. As is seen on toll routes in the U.S., two lanes in each direction will be reserved for cars with transponders (dubbed EZ Passes) for regular users who pay a flat fee. They will be able to slowly approach the gates, which will open automatically when the transponder is detected.
Although the system forces cars to stop, pay and continue, Robert Sauvé, the prefect of MRC Vaudreuil-Soulanges said he doesn’t think it will be terribly inconvenient for drivers.
“This is in place all over the U.S. It seems to work well,” he said.
Overall, he sees the new highway as a major boon to the region, which is undergoing a population boom, with estimates that it will grow from 140,000 residents to more than 200,000 in the next 15 years.
With all those cars braking constantly, Lamontagne worries traffic backlogs, and noise from trucks using their Jacobs brakes to slow down for the toll will affect her quality of life.
Asselin says he’s not too worried.
“There will be a bit of noise, but it won’t be too bad. If you want to speak to someone who’s all for this highway, that’s me, if you want someone against it, that’s her,” he said with a smile while pointing to his wife.