Quebec regains control of eastern REM

The target of numerous criticisms, the REM de l’Est, as designed by the Caisse de depot et placement, has been put on the back burner. The Legault government is taking up the project to propose a more acceptable version.

Posted at 5:00 am

Tommy Choinard

Tommy Choinard
The press

Maxime Bergeron

Maxime Bergeron
The press

The second phase of the Metropolitan Express Network (REM) had been derailed for some time. In February, the Regional Metropolitan Transport Authority (ARTM) issued a damning opinion on this new part of the automated train of CDPQ Infra, a subsidiary of the Caisse. The Société de transport de Montréal (STM) had also expressed much criticism in an internal analysis.

A month later, CDPQ Infra announced that the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) public hearings scheduled for this spring would be postponed. The group declined to proceed without a clear stance from the City of Montreal on the new version of its $10 billion project. He announced that REM de l’Est would be abandoned without strong support from the City and the ARTM.

The government has since entered into talks with Valérie Plante about the ‘governance’ of the project. The mayor has been pushing for months that she wants to sit around the decision-making table to “be more actively involved” in its development, especially as the city would have to spend at least $1 billion on all kinds of amenities along the 32-kilometer route.

Prime Minister François Legault promised “as soon as possible”, together with the mayor, “to make a nice announcement of a nicely adapted project”.

According to our information, the Legault government, which itself had commissioned the Caisse to design a new section of its REM for the eastern part of the metropolis, has decided to reclaim the file in order to completely overhaul the project. It is not yet clear at this stage which government agency – for example the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management – ​​will take over.

Quebec’s decision will inevitably lead to delays. With the postponement of the BAPE, we could no longer hope for commissioning in 2029.

CDPQ Infra believes it has delivered the most complete and feasible version of the REM de l’Est. The subsidiary of the Caisse has defended its project to the end and believes that it has not backed down from it. It was the Legault government that ultimately had the responsibility to decide, in light of the group’s most recent proposal, it is argued.

According to TVA Nouvelles, a government announcement could be made this Monday. Representatives of CDPQ Infra are not allowed to be present.

A controversial project

In 2019, at the request of the Legault government, CDPQ Infra began studying a public transportation project east of the city – as well as extensions to the REM in Laval and on the south coast. This analysis led to the announcement of the Eastern REM in December 2020.

The fully automated network would have 23 stations and be built largely on air-concrete structures to keep costs within planned margins.

The project has sparked controversy in recent months. Several groups of local citizens, as well as experts and senior officials, have warned of the risk of an urban “rupture” in several neighborhoods.

CDPQ Infra has announced a series of changes to make its network more palatable, including burying a 500m stretch in the city center and another 7km in the northeast. These changes have not allayed all fears, especially since the connection to the Green Line has been removed in the latest version of the project.

Phase 1 progressing

The original REM is still under construction. This 67-kilometer-long automated network will connect downtown to the South Shore, Montreal-Trudeau Airport, as well as the West Island and Deux-Montagnes. The project’s first antenna is to be inaugurated at the end of 2022.

De Caisse began developing the REM in 2015 at the request of the liberal government of Philippe Couillard. The original idea was to take advantage of the Samuel-De Champlain Bridge construction to build a light transportation network between the South Shore and downtown, but CDPQ Infra — the subsidiary created specifically for REM — proposed a much more ambitious project.

Under the agreement with Quebec, the Caisse will own the network for at least 99 years – unless it decides to sell it – and make a profit from it. Quebec and Ottawa, which contributed more than $6.9 billion to the project, will receive a return when expected traffic arrives.

CDPQ Infra states that its business model – which includes financing, building and operating the network – has enabled REM to move forward at an unparalleled speed, while other public transport projects managed in a traditional way have been in the metropolis for decades. .

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