montreal mirabel airort
part 1: a mega airport for montreal
THE BOOMING 1960S
Historically Montréal had been Canada’s largest city as well as its commercial and cultural center. During the 1960s, the city experienced an economic boom and Montréal's city leaders, led at the time by Mayor Jean Drapeau, were thinking big in terms of asserting the city's status as a prestigious forward-looking metropolis.
During that decade several of the city's tallest skyscrapers were constructed as well as a network of expressways and subway lines; infrastructure that the city still relies upon to today.
The enormous success of the Expo 67 World's Fair held in Montréal was one of that era's crowning achievements. In 1970, Montréal was awarded the 21st Summer Olympics, to be held in 1976. The city seemed invincible as the epicenter of enterprise and culture for Québec and the whole of Canada.
THE CASE FOR A NEW AIRPORT
Due to the boom, passenger traffic at the city's international airport at Dorval was growing at double-digit rates. In 1965, Dorval handled 3.3 million million passengers, 16.7% more than the previous year.
Five years prior, the airport had been expanded with a brand new terminal complex and a third runway. However, it was clear that planners already needed to consider the next round of expansion.
In 1966 and 1967, Canada's Department of Transport carried out a number of planning studies of the city's air transport requirements over the next 25 to 30 years. According to one study, airline passenger traffic would double every eight years.
According to this scenario, passenger movements would reach 20.6 million by 1985 and 30.5 million by 1990.
Even more critical would be the noise problem that would come with the increased air traffic. In the late 1960s, people living near the airport were already protesting against existing noise levels and demanding action from the federal government.
Restrictions were imposed on night flights at Dorval. This alleviated problems somewhat, but with the growth of traffic and the large-scale introduction of wide body and supersonic jetliners on the horizon, a long-term solution was needed.
After weighing all the factors involved, the government decided in 1968 that the future aviation needs of the Montréal area could only be met by the construction of a new international airport, one which would be suitable for the new generation of aircraft and the largely unknown demands of the 21st century.
LOCATION AND POLITICS
The Canadian Department of Transport studied five possible sites for the new airport. The federal government proposed that the airport should be located at Vaudreuil-Dorion, 25 miles (40 km) to the west of Montréal, just off Montréal Island.
This location was well connected by existing road and rail routes, was close enough to serve the population of the city, and furthermore, could serve as the gateway to Ottawa as well as Montréal.
However, the Québec government found this location to be too close to the Ontario border, a consideration related to Québec nationalist sentiments.
Instead, it preferred that the new airport would be situated at Drummondville, 68 miles (110 km) to the east of Montréal and deep inside the French-speaking Québec countryside.
In March of 1969, the federal and provincial governments reached a compromise to locate the new airport near the village of Sainte-Scholastique, 36 miles (58 km) to the northwest of the city center of Montréal and within view of the Laurentian mountains.
The airport would be named Mirabel, after a farm owned by one of the original nineteenth century settlers. During the First World War there was a Grand Trunk Railway station called Mirabel in the area.
THE MASTER PLAN
The Mirabel master plan provided for a total of six runways. Together these provided a capacity of than a 160 landings and takeoffs per hour or 630,000 movements per year.
The runways were arranged in three sets of parallel pairs: two pairs in the direction of the predominant winds (northeast-southwest) and one pair in the crosswind (east-west) direction.
All runways were planned for widths of 200 feet (61 meters) and length from 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) up to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters).
The plan provided for the construction of a total of six passenger terminals, each with a handling capacity of six to ten million passengers annually.
The most controversial part of scheme was the establishment of a huge buffer zone around the airport which was meant to provide a buffer against noise and safeguard the airport’s future development.
Most of the land would be dedicated to agriculture. Another section would be used to establish an airport industrial zone.
In total, an area of 97,000 acres (39,250 hectares), an area the size of the island of Montréal, was expropriated to make way for the airport and the buffer zone, affecting 2,700 families.
CONNECTIONS TO THE CITY
With the airport being located relatively far from Montréal, improving surface access was of utmost importance. At the time, the only road connecting Mirabel to Montréal was Route 15, the Laurentian Expressway, which traversed the proposed site's western end.
Several new expressways were planned, the most important one being Route 13, a six-lane tollway connecting Mirabel to Montréal's western suburbs and the existing airport at Dorval.
Another proposed expressway would connect Mirabel with Ottawa, some 90 miles (152 kilometers) away, thereby making Mirabel a viable alternative for inhabitants of Canada's capital city.