Kramberger: New Île-aux-Tourtes Bridge is good news, but highway bypass is in limbo 

If the long-awaited Highway 20 bypass had been realized years ago, it could have alleviated the traffic jams being felt today.

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While work on a new Île-aux-Tourtes Bridge along Highway 40 is officially underway — starting with the building of a jetty and the drilling of piles — Quebec has yet to commit to or provide a timeline for a much-needed Highway 20 bypass that would also improve traffic fluidity between the booming Vaudreuil-Soulanges region and Montreal’s West Island.

The existing Île-aux-Tourtes Bridge, built in 1965 and used by about 87,000 vehicles daily, should have been replaced around a decade ago. It has undergone numerous repairs past its end-of-life date. There was an emergency closure in May 2021 after an inspection of the two-kilometre span found it to be in worse condition than initially believed, requiring urgent repairs to support struts.

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Motorists still face reduced lanes — and a complete closure this weekend — after cracks were found on the bridge in recent weeks.

These incidents lead to traffic nightmares as motorists exiting Montreal Island are backed up on Highway 40, with many alternately taking Highway 20 and the Galipeault Bridge from Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue toward Île-Perrot.

Even if the new bridge is delivered on time, it could mean at least three more years of lane reductions and more costly structural maintenance.

If the long-awaited Highway 20 bypass through a five-kilometre stretch of Harwood Blvd. in Vaudreuil-Dorion had been realized years ago, as civic officials had demanded, it could have alleviated the traffic jams being felt today as the new bridge is built. As it stands, the boulevard, a busy commercial strip, is governed by traffic lights with a 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit.

Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue Mayor Paola Hawa insists a public inquiry be held over how Transport Quebec mishandled both the bridge dossier and the highway bypass over the decades. She said her town has felt the brunt of bridge lane reductions in recent years, as some motorists take shortcuts through Ste-Anne village, forcing deterrent measures to be imposed. She thinks the concept of the new bridge is stuck in the 1960s, with a lack of emphasis on public transit. She is unconvinced by the scenario of shoulders on the new bridge meant to accommodate bus routes.

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“We need to start looking at the important issues that are behind all of this,” Hawa said. “We need to have some kind of inquiry set up. How did it get to this point? How did successive governments over three decades fail to act? Why? Is the MTQ (Transport Quebec) just naturally incompetent, or was there something else in there?

“We need to start asking the right questions,” she said. “We’re spending (over $2 billion) on a copy and paste of a 1965 bridge. I don’t get it. How do we make sure that never happens again?”

Vaudreuil-Dorion Mayor Guy Pilon said there is a critical need for the highway bypass, since close to 60,000 vehicles pass daily on Harwood Blvd., with increased traffic following closures on the Île-aux-Tourtes Bridge. He said the Vaudreuil-Soulanges region is a key axis for trade and transit between Quebec and Ontario and the presence of traffic lights along Harwood hinders the fluidity of transport — and that’s on top of the bridge saga.

Transport Quebec has for decades owned a right-of-way corridor north of Harwood for a bypass project. Just east of this urban boulevard lies a section of Highway 20 in Île-Perrot and Pincourt that is also governed by traffic lights at a few key arteries, with a speed limit of 70 km/h.

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“The Île-aux-Tourtes Bridge is something that should have been done long before. What I want now is the 20 (bypass) finished, at least in Dorion. It would be a huge plus. The land is there, it was expropriated 60 years ago,” Pilon said, adding there are plans to install another traffic light next year on Harwood near the local Sûreté du Québec station.

The mayor is hopeful Transport Quebec will make it priority to accelerate the bypass project.

As for the new $2.3-billion Île-aux-Tourtes Bridge, it will consist of two separate spans and have three traffic lanes per direction, a two-way multi-use path and shoulders wide enough for use by buses. One span is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2026, with a second span about a year later. The old bridge would be demolished by 2030.

Pilon said it’s nonsensical that there are no reserved bus or taxi lanes on the new bridge. He questions the proposed multi-use path since there are no existing bike paths alongside Highway 40.

Some lament there isn’t space being allocated on the new bridge for a potential REM extension from the Anse-à-l’Orme station in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. However, a third structure could eventually be built within the path of the existing bridge to accommodate a REM extension to Vaudreuil-Dorion. In hindsight, this latter site should have been the terminus of the REM leg being built in the West Island along Highway 40.

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With work on the new bridge underway, the province needs to connect the dots and finally act on the oft-discussed Highway 20 bypass.

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Transit incentives

Mitigation measures in place at least until a third lane reopens on the Île-aux-Tourtes Bridge:

  • Buses can use the westbound shoulder of Highway 40 in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue
  • All Presqu’Île-area Exo buses and the STM’s lines 212 and 411 are free of charge
  • The Exo Vaudreuil-Hudson train line is free for off-island commuters, and free transit tickets are being given to those commuters weekdays until Dec. 22
  • Additional departures have been added on the train line, at 6:13 a.m. from Hudson, 7:30 a.m. from Vaudreuil and 4:40 p.m. from Lucien-L’Allier (ending in Hudson)
  • The toll on Highway 30 has been suspended
  • Traffic lights on Highway 20 have been synchronized and police are managing traffic

For more details, read this story.

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