The 12 works of Mobilité Infra

If your only tool is a hammer, all problems must be nails.

Following this dictum, the government is well advised to create a real transport agency, rather than relying on the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec whose only tool is the REM.

With Mobilité Infra Québec, unveiled Thursday, the government will have a fuller coffer to manage complex transport projects, both road and collective, that we are having so much difficulty bringing to fruition in Quebec.

By procrastinating, deadlines drag on. The first phase of the REM was delivered three years late. The rapid bus service (SRB) project on Pie-IX took 15 years to complete. And the extension of the blue metro line that has been talked about for decades will surely not be finished before 2030.

Time passes and costs explode. The bill for six major transport projects in Quebec exceeded initial forecasts by 45% to 287%, according to an analysis by HEC Montréal professor Jacques Roy1. This is significantly more than the overruns observed around the world (from 26% to 40%) for similar projects.

To put the development of our transportation back on track, here are the 12 tasks awaiting Mobilité Infra Québec (MIQ).

1. An integrated plan first

Let’s stop putting the cart before the horse. Instead of launching disparate and incoherent solutions, we must start by having a development plan for each urban area. A plan that includes urban planning, because there is no point spending billions on transportation if residents do not want to densify around the stations, as we saw with the REM. Is it really the role of a provincial agency to centralize this work? One thing is certain, MIQ cannot act alone.

2. Take politics out of the concrete

Too often, we launch transport projects based on votes (e.g.: the third link, for which there were not even studies). To avoid waste, we must prioritize projects that present the best benefit-cost ratio. Take the electrification of urban buses, dictated by Quebec. Over 10 years, the bill will be 13 billion. Is this the best way to reduce our GHGs? Experts say we are on the wrong track2.

3. More maintenance, less tape

In a context of labor shortage, we must go to the essentials to avoid exploding construction costs. The main thing is the maintenance of our existing infrastructure. Imagine: 37% of the road network is in very poor condition. It would take 20 billion to repair it. Let’s focus on that, even if it’s politically less profitable than launching new projects and cutting ribbons.

4. See beyond the end of your nose…

When you wait until the last minute, you have to act urgently, which costs a fortune. This is how the accelerated replacement of the Île d’Orléans bridge will cost 2.7 billion. Amazing ! This is as much as the money spent by Quebec in one year on the maintenance of the ENTIRE road network3.

5. Plan long, act fast

The authors of the book How Big Things Get Done analyzed 16,000 projects in 136 countries. Their observation: we are in such a hurry to move forward that we skip planning. This is how the Montreal airport built a train station in 2008, even before the REM project was known. Result: another station must be built, at a cost of 600 million.

6. The “while we’re at it” syndrome

Sound planning avoids falling into the trap of “while we’re at it” which drives up costs, as we saw with the SRB on Pie-IX. Water pipes, sewers, roads, sidewalks… The “extras” were perhaps justified, but they increased the number of people involved and complicated the work. It’s better to stay focused on the goal.

7. Cultivate social acceptability upstream

Mobilité Infra will have more latitude, in particular to carry out expropriations, an issue which has delayed the development of the blue line. It’s all well and good to have more powers, but it remains essential to cultivate social acceptability upstream if we don’t want major projects to abort, like the REM de l’Est which we threw in the trash. in the face of (very justified) fears that the city center is being distorted.

8. Collaborate with bidders

Instead of betting on the lowest bidder and then being stuck with cost overruns that create disputes, Quebec will adopt a collaborative approach, as is done elsewhere. Well done ! This will avoid finding yourself without any bids, as with the Quebec tramway, because companies do not want to venture into a vast urban project full of unknowns. The government will have to assume more risks and provide an envelope for “extras”… but without saying it too loudly, because this leads to excessive spending, according to studies.

9. Money, always money…

The bill for the 17 projects that could be entrusted to Mobilité Infra amounts to 67 billion. Who will pay the bill? Mystery ! It is planned that the Land Transport Networks Fund (FORT) will be used. However, FORT is in deficit, because we refused to index the tax on the gasoline that fuels it. This is without taking into account that the Quebec budget provides for a reduction in infrastructure investments, starting in 2024. Without new sources of revenue, we are heading into a dead end.

10. Spend on the shoulders of municipalities?

Surprisingly, Mobility Infra will be able to force cities to pay part of the bill, according to the bill. Already, cities are asking for help from Quebec to make up the operating deficit of transport companies. And we would also like them to pay for the construction of new projects launched by Quebec? All this knowing that these projects will inflate the operating costs – and deficits – of transport companies for decades? Before moving forward with new projects, we must give mayors the visibility they are right to demand.

11. The good world

By creating Mobilité Infra, Quebec is giving itself the opportunity to offer better salaries to recruit experienced experts. That’s the key. To start off on the right foot, it would be an excellent idea for there to be transportation specialists in CA, which is not specifically provided for in the bill.

12. Beware of the transition

In closing, a word on the transition period which will pose many challenges. Quebec will have to ensure that current projects do not get bogged down while waiting for Mobilité Infra to be functional. It will also have to reduce duplication, particularly with the Regional Metropolitan Transport Authority (ARTM) which is having the rug pulled from under its feet. It will have no more authority than the name.

1. Read the analysis by HEC Montréal professor Jacques Roy

2. Read the article on bus electrification

3. Read the text on the replacement of the Île d’Orléans bridge


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