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(An opinion-piece that was never picked-up by the local media; by the time that I'd finished analyzing the massive Tremblay transport-initiative report and writing on it [it took nearly a week] the papers had lost interest in the story. However, the billions of dollars in projects planned by the City's executives have not yet been put into effect, and room is still open for debate or challenges...)

Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay's recently published transportation initiative has -- as is often the case -- its good point, its bad points, and point so ugly that only its own mother could stand to live with it.

First, it seems polite to extol a bit upon this brainchild's finer points: that she's user-friendly, and all-embracing. The plan propose to not only improve existing services in central Montreal, but to finally integrate the East-End of the Island into the municipal rail system. By extending the train tracks from Mont-Royal to Point-aux-Trembles, Eastenders can finally partake of the same level of service as Westenders -- a feat acheived through an expectedly reasonable expense of $300M. And while the plan moves to embrace the East-side with it's light-rail arm, it will simultaneously move to gather it up in another; Tremblay's plan envisages expanding the Metro's Blue line out as far as St-Leonard and Anjou, thus bringing to fruition plans that were first drawn-up in the 1970s. The cost of embracing tens-of-thousands of East-End clients? $1245M in total, including $945M for a Metro extension.

In addition to the plan to embrace new areas of the Island within the public-transport system, the Tremblay proposal also calls for some important improvements of the existing transport network. This includes spending $184M to purchase two-hundred and two new, articulated buses to service busy traffic corridors such as PieIX and St-Laurent. And, to keep the Metro system running smoothly, the initiative reiterates the STM's intention to begin replacing those aging Metro-cars which have been rolling through the tunnels since 1963. Cost: $1.1B, 75% of which will be paid by the provincial government; an ugly bill, but an unavoidable one.

Thus, as with the introduction of any new brainchild to an already established family, the Island's citizens stand to gain the usual collection of benedictions and necessary hardships which come along with conception and adoption. However, not everything about this bouncing bundle of ideas seems to come down to new possibilities and necessary evils. Some of what's been produced by this little package smells positively toxic, and we would be forgiven for wondering what its parents have been feeding it lately.

For instance, the Tremblay initiative forsees spending a total of $1535M to add two completely new, and apparently redundant arms to the already expansive body of the public transportation network. In addition to the existing systems of buses, metros, trains, taxis, and bicycle paths, the administration would like to graft-on an extensive tram network and a light-rail system which would join Trudeau airport to the downtown core. What isn't clear, however, is why this sort of cosmetic surgery would constitute a good idea. If, after all, we can purchase two-hundred-and-two new buses for only $187M, wouldn't it make more sense to buy an extra two-dozen or so which could be then dedicated to express-service to areas targetted by the hypothetical tram and light-rail systems? Heck, for the price of the two together, we could just as easily buy one-*thousand* new articulated buses, or give a quarter of a million people free bus tickets for three or four years. There's an idea -- free Metro tickets for everyone in the Plateau, and an apology for even thinking about tearing up the streets again; that should would cut-down on automobile traffic!

All of this pontification inevitably must bring us back down from the lofty heights of speculative ideas and into the gritty world of fiscal reality. Mayor Tremblay's team is quite right in observing that the proposed overhaul and extension of the existing bus-metro-train system is both necessary for its health, and necessary to insure that it may service the greatest number of citizens possible. However, it is a trifle unrealistic -- indeed imprudent -- to add onto the already long list of necessary expenditures the cost of two entirely new systems. One and a half billion dollars is no trifling amount for a city of just over three million people -- particularly one which only recently finished paying for its last, big prestige project, the 1976 Olympic Stadium. Montreal's citizens should thus think hard before picking-up such a check; now may be a time to forgo prestige, and to instead stick to what is both necessary and prudent.

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