MONTREAL - The City of Montreal is in favour of a light rail transit system for the new Champlain Bridge and also hasn’t ruled out possibility of installing tolls on all access routes to the island from the South Shore.

In an open letter to Transport Minister Denis Lebel, Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum and Real Ménard, the executive committee’s point man on transport, expressed their support for a new Champlain Bridge with eight lanes, two of which would be reserved for public transit.

They say a light rail system would be the most effective form of transit in terms of fluidity and would create a more structured and consolidated urban corridor from the South Shore, to the Griffintown development, to the city centre.

"Everyone will win if we have a right and efficient public system of transportation," said Ménard.

The project is expected to cost up to $5 billion, a tab Ottawa says will be funded with the help of a private-public partnership and a toll system.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last week his government was open to local input on the project.

The federal government oversees the management of a half-dozen major bridges, including three in Montreal.

It pays significant portions of the bridges' upkeep and, when the time comes, for their replacement.

Possible toll system on all spans

At a press conference on Sunday, Ménard mentioned tolls not only for the Champlain Bridge, but also the Jacques Cartier, Mercier and Victoria spans. Menard said that a toll system remains to be seen, but that the idea of adding tolls to all the bridges would prevent overflow caused by drivers who would detour to take the free bridges.

"If we have only one toll on the Champlain Bridge, it's going to put pressure on another infrastructure," said Ménard. "You can imagine people will use the Champlain Bridge less and they are gonna use the Jacques Cartier Bridge or the Honore-Mercier Bridge more."

The 50-year-old Champlain Bridge is among the country's busiest; as many as 60 million vehicles cross it every year.

The plan is to use than bridge while the new one is being built, and will remain in place until after the Nun's Island Bridge is permanently replaced.

An inital round of public meetings were held in December.

"The goal is to use as much as possible the existing road network so by putting it so close to the actual bridge there's alot less roadwork, both on the South Shore, and on the Montreal side and on Nun's Island," said Marc Brazeau of Transport Canada

Transport Canada is planning to hold another round of consultations this spring.

Construction of the new bridge will start in 2016 and it will take five years to build. It's expected to last more than 100 years.

Design competition

City officials also said they want to launch an international architectural competition held by Transport Canada, to determine the shape of the bridge. They said they want the Champlain Bridge to be symbolic and identifiable, like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco or Sydney Opera House.


With a report from THe Canadian Press