Delayed by several years and more than $30 million over its initial budget, the long-awaited newly accessible tunnel linking the Vendôme Metro station to the McGill University Health Centre’s Glen site will open next week.
“It’s a priority for the STM. I think it’s very important to state that it’s a real priority and the results are there to show it’s a priority,” said Philippe Schnobb, the chairman of the board of directors of the Société de transports de Montréal (STM).
The $110-million project to create the multimodal station will make access to the Vendome Metro, the Exo commuter rail, buses and the MUHC much easier for people with disabilities and mobility issues, and parents with strollers. Previously, the tunnel was only accessible by stairs.
New wheelchair-friendly turnstiles were installed, as were five new elevators.
STM board of directors member Laurence Parent says it will encourage more people with disabilities to use the station.
“For disabled people, it’s also about being visible now that this station is accessible,” said Parent, who uses a wheelchair. “Now it means you will see more disabled people around and I think it’s how you change society.”
It will also make life much easier for patients needing to access the hospital.
“This improves the situation a lot,” said Dr. Pierre Gfeller, the director-general of the MUHC. “It also increases our accessibility of our patients and staff to this building where we have many medical clinics, where some of our staff are working. So for now in the winter you won’t have to go out, you will go directly to the hospital.”
The project to retrofit the station proved incredibly complex because the STM tried to avoid disrupting service.
“Our biggest challenge was an engineering challenge because we had to build a tunnel underneath the train tracks,” said Maha Clour, the project director of the STM. “Our metro system is built in the 1960s and the urban mapping has evolved all over the years so it becomes more difficult to manage a construction site with buildings around us and tunnels underneath us.”
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Critics and advocates for those with disabilities say it should have been done long ago, when the hospital was initially built.
“It was ludicrous, it was completely out of our minds why they did not plan for this in advance. It adds insult to injury,” said Laurent Morissette of the RAPLIQ. “Knowing this metro would service a huge clientele with special needs it was ridiculous.”
Even STM officials admit they are confounded it wasn’t done earlier.
“I asked the same question when I got my job seven years ago, why did we not have universal accessibility,” said Schnobb. “I was not there at the time, I can’t explain why someone missed that opportunity.”
The STM hopes to have 30 of its 68 stations accessible by 2025, and the whole network completed by 2038.
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