Autoroute 25

Improving infrastructure

Over the last year, infrastructure development in Canada has increased. Road networks and communities are expanding as the country accommodates its growing economy and the government executes its Economic Action Plan. Infrastructure Canada says that “Strong, modern, world class public infrastructure is a key factor in achieving the Government of Canada’s priorities of a stronger economy, a cleaner environment and more prosperous, safer communities.” Many current projects across the country exemplify this mandate.

Recently, partners forming the collaborative that are working on completing Autoroute 25 (A25) in Quebéc took time to explain to CBJ why this route is so critical to transportation in Montreal.

Traffic on the existing bridges spanning Rivière des Prairies between Montréal and Laval, and those between Montréal and the northeast region has increased substantially in the past decade. Although this is a positive indicator of a growing community, there has not been an increased capacity on that area of the highway network. In addition, rush hour traffic contributes to delayed passage.

Improvements and expansion for this important route in Montréal have been in the works, or on the table, for several years (Sandra Sultana, ing. Directrice, Bureau des partenariats public-privé tells CBJ that the project has been up in the air since the late 1970s), but it was only in 2007 that an agreement to move ahead was signed.

On September 24, 2007, the Minister for Transport, Julie Boulet, accompanied by the Minister of Finance, of Government Services, Monique Jérôme-Forget, and the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports, Minister of Families, and Minister responsible for the Laval region, Michelle Courchesne, as well as by Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt signed the partnership agreement between the Ministère des Transports and Concession A25, L.P. for the design, construction, funding, operation and maintenance of the completion of the Autoroute. The project is part of the MTQ’s strategy to support development of the east end of Montreal which will effectively enhance “the mobility of people and goods between the economic hubs within the metropolitan area”.

Improving mobility

The project will see new lanes integrating the new stretch into the existing network in Montréal and Laval, as well as the addition of overpasses and interchanges. There will be a reserved bus lane and a multifunctional path for cyclists and pedestrians. All commuters will gain time on their routes between Montréal and Laval, and though there is a cost, it will be well worth it for regular travellers.

A toll will be collected from people using the autoroute, which is in total a 7.2 kilometre, four-lane stretch between Henri-Bourassa Boulevard in Montréal and autoroute 440 in Laval, including a 1.2 kilometre, six-lane bridge across Rivière des Prairies.

A P3 partnership

The key elements to this project are the people who are working behind the scenes to complete it, being the partners in the P3 collaboration. The P3 or PPP project is a public-private partnership that involves everything in the project’s scope, from design, construction and operation, to maintenance and financing of the autoroute stretch to the private sector, which in total is a contract lasting 35 years.
According to Transports Québec, the main physical features that will be built by the private partner according to the PPP arrangement are as follows:
-Expressways in Montreal and Laval
-Bridge across Rivière des Prairies
-Henri-Bourassa, Maurice-Duplessis, and Perras
-Boulevard overpasses in Montreal
-Service roads in Montreal
-Toll system
-Reserved bus lanes in Montreal and Laval
-Multifunctional path for pedestrians and cyclists

Although it seems like a straightforward process to get the autoroute to its current level of development, Sultana says that it took some time to see the “need for the project clearly demonstrated.”

“It is very important to have this missing link from the south to north point of the island of Montreal. It’s shortening the detours, and bringing benefits to the economy,” explains Sultana. Notwithstanding the economic benefits of increased transport are the obvious environmental benefits—greenhouse gasses will be lessened as people are able to travel more efficiently. The project also took into consideration environmental aspects in its scheme as certain bodies of water that would be imposed upon had to be protected.

There are many reasons that contribute to a business case for the public-private partnership. For one, risks are transferred when the appropriate parties are taking care of respective responsibilities. The project can be completed with more value for each dollar and the process is very rigorous. In addition, there is a better system with a P3 as every party can be involved in creating a plausible solution when problems arise. Daniel Toutant, the leader of the A25 consortium, says that the results of the partnership have been positive all the way through, regardless of project challenges themselves.

“I must say the relationship that we’ve developed with the Ministry of Transport is certainly one of the ingredients of the success of the P3 so far. Very early in the project, we agreed on common objectives. And we have a large interest in the quality of work that is done because under our contract we have to maintain that.” Toutant adds that monitoring communications is fairly smooth between the parties because of their shared interest in the best possible outcome and this includes monitoring the financing and timelines.

“We come together on how to bring issues up and to solve them; we are very systematic,” he says. Although it is the first time Transport Québec has done a P3 of this scale, and there are many different resources coming together to make it happen, the project is currently on budget and on time.

“We’re managing a partnership, not a project,” Sultana says. “The private partnership manages the project, and we all understanding responsibility. Work is completed on the Laval side, and there is still a bridge section to complete, as well as paving. Overall, we’re very pleased. It’s going very well. We’re meeting our goals and the process has been interesting because it’s made us look at a different way of doing a project.”

The electronic tolling system will be activated and once the final construction elements are complete, the autoroute will open. Construction started in February 2008 and Toutant says that the last slab will be added to the bridge in mid-November. “We were originally scheduled to open late 2011, but will now open in July.”

 The autoroute will make travel easier and open a new option for highway travel in Montreal. Surely the province will reap the economic benefits as the route takes shape.