Québec to foot $76 million cost of Vendome Station upgrade

Bird's eye perspective on the new entrance

Big news for NDG and the owners of that big empty lot on the corner of Claremont and Boul. de Maisonneuve.

It looks like the province is pushing ahead with a plan to build a second entrance to Vendome Métro station for a cool $76.5 million by 2019.

The province’s plan is to connect the station platforms to an new entrance to be located on the ground floor of the small office building immediately east of the station, where the MUHC maintains some of its offices. The full scope of the plan involves construction of a new tunnel to link the hospital and train station with the Métro station, and to build a ‘universally accessible’ entrance at the eastern end of the Métro station’s platform.

From the looks of things, I think this will result in a unique Métro station design in terms of the placement of exits from platform level: most if not all other stations that have more than one exit from platform level have the exits located at either end of the platform. The new Vendome will have an exit at the far eastern end and the other (extant exit) located about a quarter the overall platform length from the west end of the platform.

I’m not mentioning this because there’s any particular problem with it… the point is that, as far as I remember, all Montreal Métro stations are supposed to be laid out in such a fashion that they’re all distinct in terms of their layouts and ‘feel’ so as to facilitate travel for citizens with visual impairments. I hope this overarching design concept is retained for Vendome’s redesign.

According to transport minister Robert Poeti, the intention is to make the station ‘universally accessible’, though in the press release there was no specific mention of building elevators to ferry passengers with reduced mobility between the platform level and ground level. The press release also states that the Quebec government is ‘proud’ to finance the whole thing.

No kidding… pride? What an odd emotion to state in relation to an infrastructure project…

In other contexts it sounds just as weird… “I’m proud to announce the province will pay the full cost of building this lunatic asylum” or “I’m proud to say we’ll be financing the total cost of wastewater treatment” or “I am proud to spend your money fixing problems our lack of foresight caused in the first place…”

In any event, I digress.

Installing elevators for the specific purpose of making all stations accessible to those with reduced mobility is one of the STM’s long-term goals, though it’s been *ahem* handicapped by a wide variety of complicating factors not uniquely limited to the difficulties of punching holes into walls and floors… in at least one case I can think of a private property that serves as a primary entrance to another Métro station has retarded the effort to make a station universally accessible by delaying the construction of elevators inside its foyer.

Without more specific details I can imagine one of three scenarios for Vendome station. Either elevators will allow access from the new east exit, or the tunnel connecting to the Glen Yards Super(duper)hospital will connect directly to the platform, or some combination of both options.

Connecting directly to the platform is the best option for anyone with mobility problems, not to mention the best way to contend with the anticipated increase in the station’s use if the increase is driven by those seeking to access the hospital.

The transport ministry, in their consultation with the AMT, STM and MUHC, believes that the number of users will increase from 9 million to 18 million annually between now and 2021.

However, if the increase in ridership at Vendome station is not driven principally by hospital access, and instead is a reflection of traffic congestion in the West End more generally speaking, building a second entrance will only help with entrance and egress, not accessibility. And not by much either: the bus depot will still be located around the western entrance, and the over-crowding problem at Vendome could only be solved by running more M̩tro trains and buses. If the increase in station usage is being driven by people needing access to the M̩tro system (and not the hospital), then a second entrance would make a lot of sense Рif it was located to the west where the bus depot and train station access points already exist.

The green space across the parking lot is supposed to become a grocery store/ seniors' residence. It's accessibility will be greatly improved with the new Métro entrance...
The green space across the parking lot is supposed to become a grocery store/ seniors’ residence. It’s accessibility will be greatly improved with the new Métro entrance…

The project is currently estimated to cost $76.5 million, and this cost will be paid by the provincial transport ministry. The project will be managed by the STM; construction will begin in 2017 and is expected to be completed by the summer of 2019.

You may be wondering, isn’t there already a tunnel connecting the Métro to the MUHC?

Answer: sorta.

A $5 million ‘temporary’ tunnel was completed in June of 2015 that extended an existing tunnel (that links the Vendome Métro station mezzanine with the Vendome commuter train station) towards the MUHC. Underground it connects to the MUHC’s parking garage, though it’s only an emergency exit out of the garage and into the tunnel. For those wishing to access the hospital, they need to climb a staircase (or take an elevator) and exit a kiosk located roughly 100 meters from the hospital’s front entrance.

For reasons that remain unexplained, though connecting the hospital to the Vendome intermodal station was always part of the theoretical plan, making the station a) universally accessible and b) connect directly to the hospital, never materialized as one might expect.

I should reiterate: the extant ‘temporary’ tunnel does indeed connect directly to the hospital’s underground parking garage and this garage in turn is universally accessible (i.e. served by multiple elevators). The MUHC’s CEO, Normand Rinfret, was quoted by CBC Montreal back in June of 2015 as saying, with reference to this off-limits connection:

“It’s not a door that is conceived as a wall and everything related to massive transportation means for people to get access.”

Uh-huh…

My guess is that either the people running the MUHC don’t want to pay for some additional security measures that would be required to make use of this existing access point, or they don’t like the notion of people walking through a parking garage to get into the hospital.

Proposed tunnel to connect MUHC with MUHC office space
Proposed tunnel to connect MUHC with MUHC office space

Whatever the reason, there’s no good one as far as I’m concerned. The simplest and least expensive solution to connect the hospital with the intermodal station is to use the tunnel that’s already built.

Furthermore, are we not supposed to be in a period of government austerity? Spending more than 15 times the cost of the existing tunnel on this project is a colossal expense of dubious benefit.

So let me tell you about Québec’s national sport.

The objective is very straightforward; all you need to do to win is to ‘invest’ as much public money while in government as you possibly can, and extra points are earned if a) cost projections are wildly inaccurate, b) the end product looks nothing like what was originally proposed, c) a Quebec-based company with a history of fraudulent business practices and/or poor corporate governance is somehow involved and d) if the shortcomings of an earlier government’s project can somehow be rolled into an entirely new and separate project that keeps the process repeating ad infinitum.

This is not a province that has spending under control. There is no economic conservatism in Quebec in the traditional sense, and the neoliberalism adopted by the Quebec Liberals as a de facto economic policy has only served to decease the overall value of the province’s exceptionally high rates of taxation.

We elect governments that promise to invest public money to stimulate the Quebec economy, but all too often it seems that we’re spending money for the purposes of spending money, and perhaps worse we elect governments (consistently) that take public tax wealth to redistribute to private interests that have become dependent on corporate welfare to survive (see Bombardier Aerospace). Taxation in our case is the economic foundation of our own elites. It funds our local aristocracy.

I have no issue with making Métro stations accessible, but let’s be real – this has more to do with spending money on ‘legacy projects’ than finding simple solutions to accessibility problems. As I said before, a tunnel already exists. Someone at the MUHC took a dump on the notion of having people access the hospital through the parking garage and so the powers at be have conspired to build something new and expensive rather than simply tell the MUHC to deal with it and use the tunnel they have.

And it would have gone that way had it not been for the fact that the MUHC is being run by a for-profit organization whose sole responsibility is to milk as much money from the public purse as it possibly can.

Somehow that’s supposed to be good for taxpayers.