Transportation Planning and Sustainable Development in Montreal: Procedures for Public Debates

Special Report: Public Action in Montreal and Los Angeles
By Mario Gauthier

The development of highway infrastructures has come to involve a complex process attempting to integrate requirements for improved mobility, economic development, road safety and environmental protection. In such a context, the integration, within a sustainable development framework, of transportation, territorial planning and environmental issues, has become a new requirement of local public action. Moreover, since the beginning of the 1990s, conflicts and oppositions raised by the construction of new highway infrastructures have increased in most large metropolitan areas. This paper examines procedures for public debates – inquiries, public consultation, environmental mediation, etc. – implemented in the Metropolitan Region of Montréal to integrate interventions on the road network with territorial planning, within the framework of sustainable development. Starting with an examination and transversal analysis of the major public debates on such issues in the Metropolitan Region of Montréal for the last fifteen years, the author questions the substantial effectiveness of such procedures to develop integrated solutions. The analysis comes to the conclusion that, even if the public debate appears unavoidable today, it is not as such a panacea for the crisis in transportation planning. Indeed, the public debate process on highway infrastructures contributes to raise issues of sustainable development. However, it does not warrant the development of a global vision, nor the coherence of public action at the metropolitan level, nor the elaboration of integrated solutions. For procedures of public debate to become the instruments of sustainable development, institutional and procedural innovations are required; those innovations should be designed to take into account the whole metropolitan highway network as well as to provide answers for institutional fragmentation.

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