Maritime transport, the means of transport that our businesses is limited to, is recognized as slow and more costly than road transport. This makes it more difficult for businesses to deliver their goods "just in time" and moreover, requires expensive transhipments of merchandise on the docks.
The constant increase in traffic will become more pronounced following the investments of the "Plan Nord"....
« Despite the fact that the population of the North Shore has been fairly stable for the last 5 to 10 years, the number of vehicles at the Baie St. Catherine/Tadoussac ferry has not stopped growing and this is the case for different types of clientele whether it be truck-trailers which increased greatly between 1993 and 1998, business vehicles, regional and tourist clientele. The increase in traffic is present every month of the year »
The increase in traffic since the publication of the opportunity study has been established as superior to the predictions which suggested a saturation of the ferry service for the summer of 2007 and this, despite a decrease in economic activity due to conflicts over softwood with the Americans, despite the effects of SARS and mad cow disease on tourism and world-wide uncertainty.
Moreover, these predictions did not take into account neither the eventual installation of one or several new businesses using road transport on the North Shore nor the massive investments of Labrador in their road network.
Over the years, the Société des traversiers du Québec (Quebec Ferry Society) has adapted to this increase by making their vessels larger, increasing their capacity from 60 to 75 vehicles each. Since 1999, it has increased its period of heavy day service and it finally added a 3rd vessel for the summer period. Despite these efforts, the periods of saturation of the ferry service continues and the traffic continues to increase. This is what brings the regional director of Transport Quebec (the promoter for the construction of a bridge) to express the following comments in his project aimed at the construction of a bridge over the Saguenay :
« According to the predictions previously described, if no improvement is done to increase the capacity of the service, this capacity will be reached on an average day of the year around the year 2017 and on an average summer day in 2007. Moreover and despite the stagnation of the softwood lumber market on the North Shore, the start-up of new businesses (like the Louisana-Pacific) could be a sign of saturation of the service much faster than was foreseen. »
Limits of alternative solutions
The Tadoussac / Baie St. Catherine ferry service has seen several phases of improvement since it went into service. The interventions done during the nineties were based on the addition of a third ship on an experimental basis and the lengthening of the two vessels providing the service on a permanent basis. These interventions allowed an increase in the capacity of the service during peak periods.
Over time, the possibility of improving the actual ferry service is proving to be somewhat limited. The useful life of the vessels and propulsion systems makes it difficult to consider other transformations. The addition of a second floor to the existing vessels has not been judged feasible from an operational point of view by the STQ (Société des Traversiers du Québec). With the same idea in mind, the addition of a fourth vessel with the necessary infrastructures will require considerable investments in view of the real benefits and the difference in cost with the permanent solution of a bridge.
Finally, the impact of alternative itinerary options (other ferries, driving around Chicoutimi), even if it proves complex to estimate, will probably not be enough to bring relief to the service in a way to assure its long term viability.
A bridge as a long term solution
Considering all the intervention done since the start of the ferry service and despite the maintenance of the other ferries, certain problems still remain today at the ferry and these could become acute in the future. These problems seem to be chronic and contribute not only to the saturation of the service but also to the tarnishing of its reputation on the North Shore.
The Minister considers the completion of a bridge over the Saguenay River as a permanent and definite solution to the actual problems and those foreseen at the ferry. This solution would be a long term one because its completion, if done as fast as possible, would not be finished before ten years.
By and large, the implantation of a direct road link between Baie St. Catherine and Tadoussac would have obvious positive consequences. Among them we can count the following :
- The elimination of waiting lines at the entry to the ferry and the negative image perceived by travellers;
- A possible increase in tourist clientele on the North Shore and economic regional spin-offs connected to this industry;
- The improvement in the flow of local traffic by the reduction in the number of vehicles in transit and the quality of life of residents (road and pedestrian safety, the elimination of conflicting situations, etc.);
- The definite eradication of aggressive behaviour adopted by certain drivers due to the delays in the service (the "ferry fever" syndrome);
- Improvement in the efficiency and profitability of road haulage with potential beneficial effects on the cost of transport for the North Shore shippers;
- The elimination of trucking traffic in urban communities and the improvement in the quality of the environment for the villages of Tadoussac and Baie St. Catherine odours,noise, vibrations, dust, damage to the pavement, etc.);
- The elimination of the physical barrier which is the Saguenay;
- Positive economic spin-offs during the construction;
- If the construction work is remarkable, it could become a tourist attraction and a monumental entity. » contrat (1 080Kb)
In Labrador, the mega projects of the nickel mine in Voisey's Bay (2.9 B$ of investments and more than 60 B$ worth in reserves shown up to now) and the harnessing of the Churchill River at Gull Island and Muskrat Falls (6.8 B$) have not yet started and the exploration of the territory is only at its beginning. Already, the Federal organization CNOOH (Canada Newfoundland Office of Offshore Hydrocarbons) has demonstrated natural gas reserves of 4.2 trillion cubic feet near the Labrador coast and estimates additional reserves of 6 trillion cubic feet off the coast of Labrador.
We can consequently foresee that the increase in traffic coming from Labrador and the North Shore will intensify the increase in traffic already foreseen and therefore the congestion and problems in the traffic flow at the crossing of the Saguenay.