This 2006 photo shows the westbound Cote de Liesse Autoroute (A-520) at EXIT 5 (Hickmore Road) in Dorval. A 2004 proposal by Montreal city officials to convert A-520 from a freeway to an urban arterial may be shelved in wake of the 2006 de-merger of Dorval from the city of Montreal. (Photo by Laura Siggia Anderson.)
MONTREAL'S AIRPORT GATEWAY: Cote de Liesse Road dates back at least to the opening of Montreal-Dorval (Pierre Trudeau) International Airport - which was built on the site of the former Dorval Race Track - in 1941. During World War II, shipments of troops and personnel traveled down Cote de Liesse Road as the airport served as Canada's major transit point for the Allied effort in Europe. After the war, the Cote de Liesse corridor provided an ideal combination for industries seeking inexpensive land and easy transportation access. Dozens of low-slung industrial buildings were erected along the road in the late 1940's and 1950's. Additional airport-related businesses such as hotels and restaurants eventually made their way in between the industrial buildings.
As the Cote de Liesse corridor grew more congested, Montreal city officials and the Ministère de la Voirie du Québec (MVQ) proposed an expressway down the corridor as part of the metropolitan area master plan of the early 1960's. The awarding of Expo '67 to Montreal added urgency to the completion of the freeway. As Cote de Liesse Road did not pass through any residential areas, its expansion into a freeway was met with little opposition.
Work on the Cote de Liesse Autoroute began in August 1965 following the completion of an adjacent section of the Metropolitan Autoroute (A-40) through the West Island. The four-lane freeway, which was built for a design speed of 70 km/h (45 MPH), was designed with flanking service roads for industrial and commercial areas. Concrete barriers separated all traffic flows between the local and express lanes, as well as between opposing flows. Tunnels were beneath the four carriageways of the freeway and service roads at 55th Avenue, 43rd Avenue, Montee de Liesse, MacArthur Street, and Cavendish Boulevard. Local streets connected these intersecting roads with the Cote de Liesse service roads.
Both ends of the Cote de Liesse Autoroute end at traffic circles that connect to ramps leading to A-20 (Autoroute du Souvenir) and A-40 (Metropolitan Autoroute). The traffic circles at A-20 and A-40 pre-date construction of the Cote de Liesse Autoroute; they actually were built in the early 1950's when the current A-20 was Montreal-Toronto Boulevard and the current A-40 was Cremazie Boulevard.
The Cote de Liesse Autoroute was completed in November 1966 at a cost of C$10 million; its service roads had been completed three months earlier. Upon completion, the new freeway received the A-520 designation as part of a province-wide effort to introduce a new numbering system for autoroutes.
Between 1973 and 1975, an additional interchange was built to connect A-520 to the new A-13 (Chomedey Autoroute). As with the A-20 and A-40 interchanges, there is no direct freeway-to-freeway connection between A-520 and A-13. To minimize right-of-way acquisition, the Ministère des Transports du Québec (MTQ) - the successor to the MVQ - built enlongated cloverleaf ramps that connected to the A-520 service roads. These ramps were designed in such a way that they mostly paralleled A-13.
CHANGES FOR THE DORVAL INTERCHANGE: The interchanges with A-20 was considered built to adequate standards at the time, but the traffic circle that forms the southern terminus of the Cote de Liesse Autoroute soon proved the source of chronic bottlenecks. Moreover, the single-lane ramps from A-520 and A-20 serving Trudeau Airport often require motorists to negotiate dangerous traffic merges.
In the late 1990's, the MTQ and Aeroports de Montreal began to devise plans to replace the Dorval / Cote de Liesse interchange. The reconstruction is comprised of the following parts:
The existing Dorval Circle where A-520 now joins A-20 would be replaced by a pair of two-lane, high-speed ramps connecting eastbound-to-eastbound flows from A-20 to A-520, and westbound-to-westbound flows from A-520 to A-20. Most of the airport-bound traffic would use these high-speed connections. Two additional high-speed, single-lane ramps would connect to the airport directly from A-20 in the vicinity of Bouchard Boulevard. All other traffic movements would be redirected to a rebuilt Dorval Avenue, which would be extended north to Michael Jasmin Avenue.
The existing single-lane ramps connecting A-520 to Trudeau Airport would be replaced by a "trumpet" interchange where weaving would be minimized. (The extended ramps to the airport from A-20 westbound, and from the airport to A-20 eastbound, would be built from the area of this "trumpet" interchange.) Additional connections also would be built to the local road network.
Contracts on the Dorval Circle project went out in November 2007, with major work beginning in September 2008. The C$224 million project is scheduled for completion in 2013.
CHANGES FOR THE A-40 INTERCHANGE: Unlike the pending reconstruction of the A-20 interchange, there are no current plans to replace the traffic circle at A-40 that forms the northern terminus of A-520. Such plans likely will await the reconstruction of A-40 west of the Decarie Autoroute (A-15), which is expected to cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars and not likely to see progress until the 2010's.
BACK TO A BOULEVARD? Until 2002, zoning for the area along the expressway came under four separate jurisdictions. The merger of the city of Montreal with 27 other municipalities on Montreal Island that year created a larger unified city of Montreal, giving it broader regional planning powers.
In 2004, the then-unified city of Montreal devised plans to convert the existing Cote de Liesse Autoroute into a landscaped boulevard as part of the city-wide master plan. The "Cote de Liesse Boulevard" proposal was intended to not only beautify the airport gateway route, but also create easier access from one side of the highway to the other. However, the 2006 de-merger of Dorval at the southern end of A-520 from Greater Montreal (along with 14 other municipalities) complicated the city's plan. Because A-520 itself is under the jurisdiction of the MTQ and not the municipalities, the province has the final word on infrastructure improvements along the autoroute.
According to the MTQ, the Cote de Liesse Autoroute carries approximately 35,000 vehicles per day (AADT).
This simulation shows a depiction of the rebuilt A-20 / A-520 interchanges looking north toward Montreal-Trudeau International Airport. The interchange reconstruction project is slated for completion in 2013. (Photo from Ministère des Transports du Québec.)
KEEP THE EXPRESSWAY: The existing expressway along the Cote-de-Liesse corridor should be maintained as conversion to a boulevard only would create more congestion. Although the construction of a direct rail link from Trudeau Airport would help ease highway overcrowding, direct freeway access from northern Montreal Island should be maintained via A-520 as the new direct airport ramps from A-20 will do from downtown.
To improve circulation along A-520, the northern terminus at A-40 should be rebuilt to permit high-speed freeway-to-freeway access for high-traffic movements (i.e., eastbound A-520 to eastbound A-40, and westbound A-40 to westbound A-520).
SOURCES: "Volume of Traffic for the Proposed Expressway System, Based on Projections for the Year 1981," Ville de Montreal, Service de la Circulation (1961); "Cote de Liesse? Now It's Autoroute 520" by Bob Hayes, The Montreal Gazette (11/08/1966); "Ambitious Makeover Planned: Sweeping Urban Project To Include All Parts of Island" by Linda Guylai, The Montreal Gazette (3/10/2004); Ville de Montreal Master Plan, Ville de Montreal (2004); "Highway 20, Galipeault Bridge, Dorval Circle Get Major Facelifts" by Max Herrold, The Montreal Gazette (5/15/2008); Aeroports de Montreal; Transport Quebec; Félix-Mathieu Bégin; Christopher DeWolf.
A-520 shield by Wikipedia. Lightpost photo by Douglas Kerr.