This 2013 photo shows the elevated Metropolitan Autoroute (A-40) at St. Lawrence Boulevard (Boulevard St.-Laurent). The photo was taken from eastbound Cremazie Boulevard, which is the name for the service road from the Acadie Circle east to Viau Boulevard. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
49.4 kilometers (30.7 miles) 1957-1971
EARLY PLANS FOR A BYPASS: Officials in Montreal made plans for a trans-island boulevard that was to bypass the city as early as 1920, and this boulevard was part of a larger plan for a Trans-Canada Highway that was to connect the major cities in the country. However, plans for the boulevard languished until 1931, when the Province of Quebec included the boulevard in its highway plans. According to figures provided by the Financial Post, the boulevard was estimated to cost C$15 million, or just over C$300,000 per kilometer for the 49 kilometers of the route. It originally was to have been financed 25% by the federal government, 25% by the province, and 50% by the municipalities on Montreal Island. Not much was done in the early years of the proposal, save for C$71,000 spent on preliminary engineering plans.
The highway, which soon came to known as Metropolitan Boulevard, was included in 1936 as part of a broader Trans-Canada Highway; the Trans-Canada Highway itself was part of an even broader public works plan designed to lift the country out of the Great Depression. A provincial panel commissioned a report that year that recommended the highway be built as a fully controlled-access freeway. The report also recommended a mid-island route with a wide right-of-way through the West Island, using the current A-40 routing, rather than a more disruptive routing along the existing Lake Shore Boulevard and the Canadian National Railway (CN) tracks (which eventually became the routing for A-20).
The city of Montreal began construction of Metropolitan Boulevard from Mont-Royal to Pointe-Aux-Trembles in 1936. Although it was completed in 1939 as a traditional boulevard, enough right-of-way was set aside for the eventual construction of a freeway. However, construction of a new freeway would not occur until decades later.
POST-WAR PLANNING: In 1951, the city of Montreal revisited plans to build a freeway along Metropolitan Boulevard. The C$100 million cost of building the freeway was too much for the city of Montreal to finance alone, so the city devised a plan to finance the cost proportionately among the 32 municipalities on Montreal Island through the Montreal Metropolitan Commission (MMC). The MMC was given the authority to impose tolls, which was designed to mitigate concerns of some municipalities, such as Verdun, that saw little direct benefit from the proposed autoroute.
The MMC received approval to continue right-of-way acquisition in 1952, a process that continued through 1956. The right-of-way was to be 61 meters to 92 meters (200 to 300 feet) wide, enough to accommodate a six-lane freeway and service roads.
VIADUCT SELECTED OVER TRENCH: One planned design for the Metropolitan Expressway was to have it sunken in a trench below street level, similar to what was done later for the Decarie Expressway (A-15). However, engineers determined it was best to elevate the highway nine meters (30 feet) above street level. It was thought that the construction of a trench for the highway would disrupt the city's water and sewer lines, most of which were laid in a north-south axis between downtown Montreal and Montreal-Nord.
LEFT: This 1959 photo shows the elevated Metropolitan Expressway (A-40) under construction. RIGHT: This circa 1965 photo shows the completed Metropolitan Expressway looking east at the Acadie Circle. The completion of the Metropolitan Expressway encouraged industrial investment along the corridor, but in more recent years has attracted office and retail investment. (Photos by Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec.)
THE FIRST ELEVATED SECTION: Construction of the Metropolitan Expressway began in 1957 with the initial section of highway, which comprised approximately 10.5 kilometers (6.5 miles) of viaduct. That year, construction began on another freeway, the Laurentian Autoroute (A-15), which was to connect the Metropolitan Expressway with the Laurentian Mountains. This initial section of freeway from just west of the junction with the Laurentian Autoroute (EXIT 70) east to EXIT 76 (QC 125 / Pie-IX Boulevard) was completed in October 1959. This initial section was extended three kilometers (1.8 miles) west to Decarie Boulevard (EXIT 66) in 1960. The connection to the Decarie Expressway was not completed until seven years later.
Almost immediately upon completion of this initial section, industrial parks were built along the length of the expressway, affording a variety of industries with modern manufacturing facilities and easy transportation access throughout Canada and the United States, something that was not available to industrial companies based closer to downtown Montreal. This led to explosive residential growth in the area between the Metropolitan Expressway and the Rivieres-des-Prairies. In the 20 years after the completion of the expressway, the population of the borough of Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension had grown more than tenfold, from 6,000 to 68,000, and in the following 40 years, the population had doubled again.
PART OF THE TRANS-CANADA HIGHWAY: In October 1960, the province reached a deal with the federal government to assume financial responsibility of the Metropolitan Expressway from the MMC. The deal had the following conditions:
Under the deal, the federal government would cover half the cost of the 49-kilometer-long (31-mile-long) highway, which had risen to C$125 million, with the Quebec government assuming the remaining half of the cost.
Tolls would not be used to finance construction.
The provincial police (Surete du Quebec, or SQ) would patrol the freeway.
The new Trans-Canada Highway would be routed along the Metropolitan Expressway from Vaudreuil-Dorion east to the Lafontaine Expressway (A-25) and the Anjou Interchange (EXIT 80), at which point the Trans-Canada Highway would shift onto A-25.
Work followed on the construction of a 16-kilometer-long (10-mile-long) section of freeway from EXIT 66 west to EXIT 50 (St. John Boulevard / Boulevard St.-Jean). This section, which includes connections to three other autoroutes (A-520 / Cote-de-Liesse Expressway, and A-13 / Chomedey Expressway), was completed in 1963. It provided the first express route from Montreal to the West Island suburbs of St.-Laurent, Pointe-Claire, and Kirkland.
An extension of A-40 west to Vaudreil-Dorion--and ultimately, to the Quebec-Ontario border--was completed in 1966. Land was set aside just west of EXIT 49 (St. Mary Road / Chemin Ste.-Marie) in Kirkland for a proposed interchange with an extended Laval Expressway (A-440), which ultimately was never built.
These circa 1970 photos show (upper left) a ramp to the elevated westbound A-40, (upper right) a sign alerting motorists to construction ahead on the express A-40 lanes in Montreal-Est; and (lower left) construction underway on the A-40 express lanes in Montreal-Est, while through traffic used the service roads. The Metropolitan Expressway was completed in its entirety in 1971. (Photos by Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec.)
COMPLETING THE FINAL LINK TO THE EAST: Continuing the route of the Metropolitan Expressway east of the viaduct, the province built the service roads first and left the median space open for the future construction of a six-lane freeway. The province used this "service roads first" construction strategy first years later when it built the Laval Expressway / Autoroute Jean-Noel Lavoie (A-440).
The next section to open east of the viaduct was a two-kilometer-long (1.2-mile-long) section stretching from EXIT 76 east to EXIT 78 (Langelier Boulevard); this section was completed in 1965. Unlike the viaduct to the west, this section was built at grade level, with all but one of the grade separations built above A-40 (the only above-grade section of A-40 was built over Langelier Boulevard). At major intersections, the A-40 service roads do not intersect directly with the crossroads but rather perform as collector-distributor (C/D) roads at the same grade as the A-40 express lanes. Ramps connect to major crossroads from the A-40 service roads.
In 1967, a five-kilometer-long (three-mile-long) section of A-40 was built from the Charles de Gaulle Bridge at the Des Prairies River west to EXIT 89 (QC 138 / Henri Bourassa Boulevard) in Point-Aux-Trembles. This section of A-40 provided a connection to the North Shore Autoroute, a toll road that eventually was extended east to Trois-Rivieres in the 1970s.
In 1969, the Metropolitan Expressway was extended two kilometers east to EXIT 80 (A-25 / Lafontaine Expressway). This included construction of the Anjou Interchange, a complex interchange built for the intersection of A-40 and A-25. Interestingly, the A-40 service roads were extended through the interchange, but the A-25 service roads were not, forcing those motorists on a more circuitous route.
The Metropolitan Expressway was completed in 1971 with the final completion of the nine-kilometer-long (six-mile-long) missing link from EXIT 80 east to EXIT 89. With the completion of this section, A-40 extended uninterrupted for 151 kilometers (94 miles) from the Quebec-Ontario border east to the North Shore community of St. Cuthbert.
IT ALMOST WENT UP WITH A BOOM… TWICE: In 1969, Montreal police found 141 sticks of dynamite tied to two viaduct supports on an elevated section of A-40 near Authier Street, between the Cote de Liesse Expressway (A-520) and the Decarie Expressway (A-15). Officials first thought the explosives were thought to have been planted by terrorists tied to the militant separatist group Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ), but after further police investigation, the explosives were found to have been planted by bank robbers.
On August 9, 2016, a tanker truck carrying 45,000 liters of diesel fuel slammed into three other trucks in a chain reaction collision on the westbound Metropolitan Expressway just before the afternoon rush hour. The driver of the tanker truck died in the collision after another truck driver involved in the crash tried to save him, but there were no other serious injuries. The resulting explosion and fire not only engulfed the four trucks, but also melted steel and glass on building along the Cremazie Boulevard service roads. Although the heat from the fire also melted some of the concrete road surface, concrete median barrier, and steel guardrails, workers were able to open the eastbound lanes of A-40 the following morning. After engineers determined there was no major structural damage to the viaduct, repairs were made to the surface concrete, and the westbound lanes were reopened the next day. An investigation by the Surete du Quebec (SQ) found that although the trucks had traveled too closely, the tanker truck had faulty emergency brakes after it was involved in four other sudden stops earlier in 2016, two on them on the elevated Metropolitan Expressway and the other two along Cremazie Bouelvard.
This 2010 photo shows the eastbound Metropolitan Expressway (A-40) approaching EXIT 60 (A-13 / Chomedey Expressway). Built in the early 1960s as part of the Trans-Canada Highway, and referred locally as the "T-Can" west of A-15, this section of A-40 was rebuilt in the 2000s. (Photo by Scott Steeves, www.asphaltplanet.ca.)
This 2010 photo shows the eastbound Metropolitan Expressway (A-40) approaching EXIT 70 (A-15 / Laurentian Autoroute). The section between the Decarie Expressway and the Laurentian Autoroute--"between the two 15s" as referred on local traffic reports--is the busiest stretch of A-40, carrying about 190,000 vehicles per day (AADT). Some of the ramps at this interchange were relocated in the early 2010s. (Photo by Scott Steeves, www.asphaltplanet.ca.)
This 2010 photo shows the eastbound Metropolitan Expressway (A-40) approaching EXIT 80 (A-25 / Lafontaine Expressway). The sign for the ramp to EXIT 80N was replaced in 2011 upon the completion of the Olivier Charbonneau Bridge to Laval that year. (Photo by Scott Steeves, www.asphaltplanet.ca.)
EARLY PLANS TO REPLACE THE MET: With the first sections of the elevated Metropolitan Expressway approaching the 30-year service mark in 1989, Montreal Mayor Jean Dore proposed replacing the elevated highway with a six-lane tunnel below ground, and a landscaped boulevard with a median park above ground. The project, which had a projected price tag of C$2 billion, was to have been similar to the "Big Dig" project designed to replace the elevated John F. Fitzgerald Expressway / Central Artery (I-93) in Boston. Dore suggested that the province pay for replacing the elevated A-40.
INTERIM UPGRADES TO THE MET: In the meantime, the elevated section of the Metropolitan Expressway received minor upgrades in the 2000s, including the replacement of lightpoles and signs, while the Trans-Canada section of A-40 west of A-520 received a more substantial rehabilitation, including reconstructed roadways. Some modest traffic relief was provided when the A-30 bypass (South Belt Expressway / Autoroute de l'Acier) opened in 2012, and since that opened, the traffic load on the most congested section of A-40 declined to 193,000 vehicles per day (AADT) in 2018, from 204,000 vehicles in 2011. Additional relief was provided in 2013 after a two-year project to rebuild interchange ramps at EXIT 70 (A-15 / Laurentian Autoroute), which replaced the left-hand exit and entrance ramps along the eastbound A-40 with new flyover ramps that allowed motorists to exit from eastbound A-40 to northbound A-15, and enter from southbound A-15 to eastbound A-40.
However, more than a half century of heavy traffic and harsh winters began to take their toll on the elevated expressway. Discussion of replacing the viaduct began to take on more urgency by the early 2010s, but as the Ministere des Transports du Quebec (MTQ) was fully invested at the time on the Turcot (A-15 / A-20 / A-720) and Dorval (A-20 / A-520) interchange replacement projects, the Metropolitan viaduct replacement had to wait.
DEVELOPING A LIST OF ALTERNATIVES FOR THE VIADUCT: In 2011, Montreal-based engineering design firm SM Group International developed three alternatives for the Metropolitan Expressway between the A-15 and A-25 interchanges as follows:
VIADUCT REPLACEMENT: There would be a like-for-like replacement of the existing Metropolitan Expressway viaduct, though the new viaduct would be designed to be better integrated with area neighborhoods. Above ground, the revamped expressway would have full-width shoulders were there are none now, while at ground level, the concrete girders and piers would be painted with decorative artwork. The space under the viaduct may be used for community spaces.
DEPRESSED FREEWAY: The existing six-lane expressway viaduct would be replaced by a six-lane depressed freeway, with major cross streets bridged over the freeway. At some locations, there would be a landscaped cap to reconnect neighborhoods.
ARTERIAL BOULEVARD: The existing six-lane expressway viaduct would be replaced by an expanded eight-lane Cremazie Boulevard, with a landscaped park separating the eastbound and westbound lanes. This was the alternative selected for a three-block-long stretch of the Bonaventure Expressway (A-10) when that section of viaduct near the Griffintown neighborhood of Montreal was torn down in 2016.
None of the alternatives feature any discussion of interchange improvements at the Cote de Liesse Expressway (A-520), and Decarie Expressway (A-15), and Lafontaine Expressway (A-25). They also do not assume the completion of A-440 (Laval Expressway) or A-640 (North Belt Expressway), either (or both) of which would provide a northerly bypass of Greater Montreal. Moreover, they do not account for future real estate developments, such as the proposed Royalmount Centre (dubbed colloquially as "Quinze40" after the "Quartier Dix30" development in Brossard) at the junction of the Metropolitan Expressway and the Laurentian Autoroute.
In an interview featured in the January 18, 2019 edition of Le Journal de Montreal, Chantal Rouleau, a delegate for the National Assembly of Quebec (Assemblee Nationale du Quebec) and liaison to the MTQ, revealed that the Metropolitan "will be more modern, but (it) will look like the current highway." It appeared that the MTQ had all but ruled out the depressed freeway and arterial boulevard alternatives, selecting instead a viaduct replacement alternative.
Unlike the Turcot Interchange replacement project, where there was considerable right-of-way available for temporary roadways, the limited right-of-way adjacent to the expressway likely would not permit the construction of temporary roadways. The MTQ provided neither a cost estimate nor a timetable, though a full replacement of the Metropolitan Expressway viaduct likely would cost at least C$2 billion, and likely continue until at least 2030.
REBUILDING THE WESTERN GATEWAY: In an unrelated project, the MTQ plans to replace the Ile-aux-Tortes Bridge, which connects A-40 in the West Island with Vaudreuil-Dorion to the west via Ile-aux-Tortes. Built in 1965, the original six-lane span carries approximately 85,000 vehicles per day (AADT), but has inadequate right shoulders and no left shoulders. The replacement span also would have six general-use lanes, three in each direction, but the overall width of the bridge would be expanded to 45 meters (148 feet), from 29 meters (95 feet), to accommodate dedicated bus lanes in expanded shoulders, as well as pedestrian and bicycle paths.
The new Ile-aux-Tortes Bridge is expected to cost at least C$500 million, and construction is expected to take place from 2025 to 2030. To date, the MTQ already has dedicated C$120 million to maintain the existing span.
These conceptual designs from Montreal-based engineering firm SG Group International shows the viaduct replacement alternative developed under a 2011 study commissioned by the MTQ. (Exhibit credit: SM Group International, www.groupesm.com.)
SOURCES: "Express Highways Plan Is Produced," The Montreal Gazette (1/03/1948); "Special Parley Called To Decide New Route," The Montreal Gazette (8/30/1956); "Freeway Route Approved," The Montreal Gazette (10/04/1956); "MMC May Reconsider Section in St. Laurent, Mount Royal," The Montreal Gazette (4/25/1957); "Expressway Taking Shape," The Montreal Gazette (5/15/1959); "Boulevard Across Island Cost: $122,650,855" by Myer Negru, The Montreal Gazette (6/12/1959); "Metropolitan Boulevard Ready Soon," The Montreal Gazette (8/28/1959); "Allow MMC To Submit Subway Plans: Dozois; Authority Granted To Set Metro Toll Rate" by Wilbur Arkison," The Montreal Gazette (2/03/1960); "Reconsidering the Boulevard," The Montreal Gazette (2/04/1960); "Metro Boulevard Included; Trans-Canada Pact Sets Quebec Route" by Bob Hayes, The Montreal Gazette (10/28/1960); "Superhighway To Serve Area," The Montreal Gazette (11/16/1963); "North Shore Autoroute Decision Soon," The Shawinigan Standard (2/26/1964); "Montreal-Berthierville Tollway Expected To Open June 24," The Shawinigan Standard (6/21/1967); "Police Defuse Biggest-Ever Bomb" by Eddie Collister, The Montreal Gazette (3/07/1969); "Bank Robbers Responsible for Big Bomb," The Montreal Gazette (3/08/1970); "Quebec Should Pay for Metropolitan Repairs: Margles" by Steven Morris, Town of Mount Royal-Weekly Post (2/09/1989); "End to 'Total Nightmare?' $760 Million To Solve the Metropolitan's Worst Problems" by Andre Pratte, La Presse (8/05/2000); Redevelopment of the Metropolitan Expressway in Montreal: Efficient Transportation Planning in a Dense and Compact Urban Environment by Nicolas Biussel-Roy, Transportation Association of Canada (2011); "Roadwork on the Laurentian Interchange," CFCF-TV (3/24/2012); "Dramatic Collision on Metropolitan Kills One, Closes Scene for Inspection," CBMT-TV (8/09/2016); "Tests To Determine Severity of Fire Damage on Metropolitan Expressway" by Jason Madger and Lindsay Richardson, The Montreal Gazette (8/10/2016); "Trucks Too Close in Fatal 2016 Crash" by Katherine Wilton, The Montreal Gazette (6/22/2017); "Countdown to 2022: Turning the Corner on Montreal Roadwork" by Andy Riga, The Montreal Gazette (10/16/2017); "Mega Mall Project in Town of Mount Royal To Include Traffic-Easing Measures," CBMT-TV (2/19/2018); "Montreal Is Getting a New, Bigger Ile-aux-Tortes Bridge," CBMT-TV (12/03/2018); "The Metropolitan Will Remain an Elevated Highway" by Matthieu Payen, Le Journal de Montreal (1/18/2019); Ministère des Transports du Québec; SM Group International; Félix Mathieu-Bégin; Richard Dupuis.
A-40 shield by Wikipedia.
Trans-Canada Highway shield by James Lin. North Shore Autoroute shield from MTQ Quebec map (1975). Lightpost photos by Steve Anderson.