The Quebec government and the City of Montreal are seeking to revitalize the downtown core with a plan to cover the Ville-Marie expressway between the Viger and Ville-Marie Tunnels, it was announced Monday.

Officials say they want Montrealers to decide what the new public space will look like.          

Long considered an eyesore, that exposed section of the Ville-Marie Expressway cuts off the downtown core from Old Montreal, something officials are seeking to change with a plan to cover that area.

“The important project will revitalize the sector by creating a new public square for the thousands of tourists and residents who will visit Old Montreal each year,” said Mayor Denis Coderre.

The section between the two tunnels runs about 500 metres.

Officials are initially concentrating on the first phase, an area 125 metres long between Hotel de Ville Ave. and Sanguinet St.

The exact cost of the project is still unknown, though the Quebec government has offered $100 million for the project.

The City of Montreal said it plans to conduct more studies and release the exact figures in November.  Part of the plan is to ask Montrealers what type of public space they would like over the expressway.           

“We're going to take a look at the whole agenda. (Opposition leader Richard) Bergeron will participate and make sure that the people will get involved to provide us with their ideas,” he said. Bergeron has been appointed to head the project.          

The first phase of the coverage of the Ville-Marie expressway is expected to be completed by 2017, in time for the 375th anniversary of Montreal.

Project long time in the making

Former mayor Jean Drapeau asked renowned French architect Roger Taillibert, notable for designing the Olympic Stadium, to draw up a sketch of a covered Ville Marie in 1980.

Drapeau’s office overlooked the area.

Talk heated up in the mid-80s to cap it. A 1986 study determined that 40 to 60 per cent of the costs would be recouped to sale, tax and rental of the land created above.

Mayoral candidate Louise Harel had also promised the same thing during her election campaign in 2009, vowing to cap the area between the Palais des Congress and the Jacques-Cartier Bridge.

Bergeron had also promised a roof and estimated the project would cost $50 to $75 million, which was considered wildly optimistic during the campaign.

The Ville Marie Expressway was completed in 1974.