Couillard insists REM will proceed despite negative environmental review
Published Friday, January 20, 2017 5:07PM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 20, 2017 10:37PM EST
Quebec's Environmental Review Board (BAPE) is not approving the Caisse de Depot's plan to build a light rail transit system in Montreal.
In a report released Friday afternoon the BAPE raises multiple questions about the $5.9 billion project.
The board says the Caisse has failed to examine the environmental impact of the line, doesn't explain where the funding is coming from, and does not explain the impact it would have on existing public transit systems.
In particular, the board points out documentation on natural habitats is missing, which means necessary studies have not been done.
The board also wants to know exactly how the project is being financed.
When the Caisse proposed the project it said it was willing to put forward $3 billion if the provincial and federal government provided the rest of the necessary funding. But it's never been clear who would collect profits or pay for shortfalls of the train line.
Documentation on the REM also fails to indicate how the project would get people to switch to public transit, or how much tickets would cost.
Several critics have pointed out that estimates for how many people would use the REM don't indicate it will have a significant increase in the number of people using public transit.
Later examinations showed the REM line would take over the rail line currently used by the Montreal-Deux Montagnes train line, and a portion of the Mascouche railway.
VIA's plan for high-speed rail in Montreal would also be thwarted by the REM.
More than 30 homes would also have to be expropriated.
Government insists REM will proceed
Regardless of the environmental concerns, Premier Philippe Couillard said the light rail project will proceed.
Couillard has not read the report but said the Environmental Review Board had no power to stop the project, no matter what questions were raised.
He did say it was possible there would be adjustments to the proposed rail line.
That was a viewpoint echoed by Quebec's Transport Minister Laurent Lessard, who also had not looked at the full report.
"Understand I have not had the time to look at his yet, but this is a project that will proceed," said Lessard.
The Conseil du Patronat echoed the Transportation Minister, saying the project was too important to the economy to allow it to be stopped.
Jean-Claude Gobé, leader of the opposition in Laval, had the same sentiments.
A spokesperson for Environment Minister David Heurtel said he won't be commenting until he has more time to study the report.
Meanwhile Parti Quebecois Transportation critic Alain Therrien is denouncing what he calls the government's lack of transparency.