Special Report: Cone Zone: Coping with Montreal's traffic
Published Thursday, October 20, 2011 12:28PM EDT
MONTREAL - The dream scenario promoted in car commercials of a solitary car zooming down an open road is divorced from reality.
Rob Allardyce is in the car business, and even he admits that often getting into a car just means having somewhere comfortable to sit while staring at cars and trucks lined up bumper-to-bumper for kilometres.
He lives in LaSalle and works across the river in Kahnawake.
On good days the trip across the Mercier Bridge takes eight minutes, but when it's bad "It could take me up to two hours," said Allardyce.
When the bridge closed this summer for urgent repairs, Allardyce decided enough was enough and made a creative change.
Now his commute to the South Shore is made via his local marina, where he dons a lifejacket, boards his jetski, and motors under the Mercier Bridge.
"It takes about five, ten minutes. Sometimes we take a little detour when it's really nice, so that takes a little longer," said Allardyce.
He may get a little wet, but he has found a way out.
Two wheels beats four
Allardyce is far from the only person who has realized the freedom of the open road is really a cage for commuters.
Craig D'Orsay has given up his car for a bicycle, and a shower at the office.
"I live on one side of the Decarie Interchange, and I work on the other side, so getting through the Decarie Interchange by car could take about a half hour on most days. Going by bike I can do it in about 20 minutes," said D'Orsay.
That's just one example of where muscle beats machine.
D'Orsay's employer, Silanis, said a decision it made two years ago to relocate has had a drastic effect on its employees.
Two years ago the company moved to a location that was closer to a public transit hub.
"Just moving one mile from Ville St. Laurent into this part of Montreal completely changed people's ability to get into work, and get cars off the road," said Tommy Petrogiannis, the president of Silanis.
The Horseshoe is not a lucky place
Traffic in Montreal has only grown worse since the province launched a massive infrastructure campaign to repair or replace key bridges, highways, overpasses and interchanges.
It's all on display at Transport Quebec's traffic centre, where controllers like Frederic Ducharme have nicknamed three major thoroughfares "The Horseshoe."
"It's Decarie, the 40 between Decarie and the 25, and the 25 till the tunnel," said Ducharme.
Drivers caught on those roads are anything but lucky.
"Traffic builds up more rapidly within that given area," said Ducharme.
It's an area that is pockmarked by construction sites, the latest being the closure of exits from the 40 to St. Denis and St. Laurent.
Would-be employees avoiding Montreal
One recent survey found more than half of local companies say traffic is putting the brakes on their profits, whether due to employees being late or absent more often, or recuperating from commuting stress.
Traffic is also making it hard to recruit employees.
"It's more and more difficult to attract people in Montreal," said Florent Francoeur, of Quebec's Human Resources Association.
"We can see now that some employees said that when the job is in Montreal, [they] just don't want to apply for the job."
Bad as the commute may be for people who only drive to and from work, it's worse for truck drivers like Peter Dutil.
"I don't want to go anymore to Montreal. It's too crazy," said Dutil.
After 33 years behind the wheel of his transport truck, Dutil told his boss he'd be willing to earn less rather than stress out in traffic.
His boss took him up on the offer and now his deliveries are only on the South Shore.
Dutil says the ease of driving makes up for his 25 per cent pay cut.
"If you want to go in Montreal you're going to have 25 per cent more, but you're driving in Montreal too," said Dutil.
MexUsCan Cargo says adjusting to Montreal's traffic woes has not been cheap.
The Montreal Board of trade pegs the overall loss of productivity at $2 billion each year.
Marie-Chantal Goyette estimates it costs her company alone thousands of dollars a day.
"When you're running a truck two hours a day more because of road closures or bridge closures, times 50 trucks, that's very expensive," said Goyette.
Any possible solution is not likely to come soon.
In addition to the projects currently affecting drivers, two major projects will take place over the next decade: the complete replacements of the Turcot Interchange and the Champlain Bridge.