Private control over transport planning

In recent years, transport planning in Quebec has come increasingly under the control of the private sector.
The plan for the Turcot Interchange is the latest and largest step in that direction. Huge engineering companies like SNC-Lavalin have made millions fram traffic studies, monitoring contracts, and the design itself. Now, these engineering and their favorite construction companies are eager to get their hands on a nice big piece of this $3 billion pie. Since they have been heavily involved in this process up to the present, the Turcot project before us largely reflects their own interests. By rebuilding this interchange larger than before, these companies ensure that the Turcot will have the largest possible price tag.

Exponential spending on infrastructure spending
Construction is the most significant industrial activity in Quebec and the Ministry of Transport is its most important player in this sector. In 2007, highway spending was $1.7 billion; in 2011, it was $4.2 billion. Despite this explosion in costs, there is very little competition in this industry; 10 construction companies are responsible for 39% of all road work, and 10 engineering firms share 68% of all engineering services.

Some of these professional services involve estimating future traffic demand. The results of these projections influence the type of projects that are approved and how they are designed. For the Turcot, SNC-Lavalin’s estimate of 10% more cars by 2016 is good business: if there will be more cars using the Turcot, then what is needed (they will argue) is greater vehicle capacity.

It is therefore not surprising that the plan for the Turcot contradicts the official policies of the Quebec and Montreal governments. These policies aim to promote less reliance on private automobile transportation and sustainable development practices.

The MTQ has lost its expertise
Because of better pay in the private sector, the Ministry of Transport is increasingly unable to retain the expertise required to manage and supervise its infrastructure projects. As the Duchesneau report revealed, 100% of cost estimations in the Montreal area and 95% in the regions are prepared by private firms. This privatization has resulted in significant cost inflation.

This loss of expertise has allowed engineering firms and construction companies to defraud the government. The Ministry is thus not able to properly verify the quality of the construction or the traffic estimations being executed.

Lower ethical standards for Turcot than other infrastructure projects
Unlike other large public construction projects in Quebec, ethical norms intended to avoid conflicts of interest are being waived. For example, the engineering firms that drew up the preparatory plans for the highway complex will also be permitted to bid on the project management during construction. In the cases of the construction of the MUHC (CUSM) and CHUM mega-hospitals, the firms involved in the plans are ineligible to bid in the construction phase.

Why have these norms been waived for the Turcot, the largest infrastructure project in Quebec? The answer was suggested by Jacques Duchesneau in his report: the Ministry of Transport now relies almost entirely on private contractors, to plan, maintain and build its roads. This is why infrastructure investment decisions being made reflect the interests of these companies’ shareholders and not the affected communities or future generations who will pay the bill.

The full article from Le Devoir that revealed this information can be found here