Partial closure of Louis-Hippolyte-La Fontaine tunnel causes uncertainty

Gabriel Guindi / The Concordian

Will the constructions give public transit a boost?

Constructions on the Louis-Hippolyte-La Fontaine tunnel have begun. With three of its six lanes closed, South Shore commuters are weighing their options — including Concordia students.

Half of the tunnel will be closed until 2025. While traffic seemed moderate at the beginning of the first week of construction, the road between the island and the South Shore started getting more congested within a few days.

“We’re adapting in real-time,” said Gilles Payer, spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation of Quebec. Payer explained that it would take two to three weeks for traffic to be regulated. “Right now, people are trying things. They’re changing their habits.”

Joy Benyamin, a first-year journalism student at Concordia, has started to see the effects of the tunnel closure near her home in Brossard. She works at Quartier DIX30 and explained the closure of the tunnel has caused many delays in her commute — even when she’s not trying to get on the island.

“I finish work at five, my sister finishes work at five. My mom picked me up, and my sister works really close to the Champlain bridge [too]. Usually, we turn on one street, and we’re here. But we got stuck on a street for 30 minutes. My mom cut into a residential street, and there was even more traffic, because everyone thought of the same thing. […] It took us one hour from my work to her work. It usually takes us seven minutes.”

Benyamin uses public transit to get to school, so the closures haven’t affected her in that regard.

“I hope more people take public transport to get around,” she said. “On the bus, you have your music, and you sleep. And there’s a bus lane in the morning, so no traffic for you!”

This sentiment is echoed by Mario Lemay, mayor of Sainte-Julie. Public transport is free within Sainte-Julie, and there are a lot of incentive free parking lots at bus terminals to encourage people to use buses when travelling to Montreal. Before the pandemic, these options were popular; according to Lemay, around 90 per cent of the parking spots were filled. 

“It has been less pretty since the pandemic,” he said. After the uncertainty of the last few years, bus companies are having a hard time finding drivers, and fewer drivers means less reliable buses.

Lemay hopes that the closure of the bridge may lead people back to public transit options. He was happy to see the steps taken by the Ministry of Transportation to create more public transit options on the South Shore.

Lemay recommends that people opt to work from home as much as they can, and try to get a schedule that keeps them away from the road at rush hour. 

“There’s less traffic than we expected,” he concluded. “We’ll see with the snow, though.”

The pandemic was also on Payer’s mind when he tried to predict how the closure of the tunnel would affect drivers in the coming weeks.

“No one calls us to say: today, I’ll be teleworking!” he said. 

He pointed out the steps taken by the Ministry to make public transit more appealing, including five free bus lines going into Montreal and, until the end of the month, free STM tickets for commuters once they get to the island. Payer explained that they want to encourage first-time users to try public transit.

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