Put an end to roar — without impeding road and rail traffic

ANALYSIS: Beaconsfield’s sound woes

By Robert Frank
You can’t help but feel for Beaconsfielders who live near Highway 20.

For three decades, many of them have endured road roar well beyond the threshold that, scientists say, harms their hearing, makes them irritable and impairs their ability to concentrate.

Derrick Pounds, who vigorously leads a group of citizens seeking relief, has repeatedly asserted that there was no problem until three decades ago. That was when Quebec turned Highway 20 into a limited-access highway.

“I have lived 200 metres from the highway for 49 years, back when the speed limit was 70 km/h,” he said, reminding officials how ill-thought-out road development has harmed the inhabitants of his once-peaceful community.

“We didn’t ask for it and they didn’t ask our permission when they increased the speed limit to 100 km/h, but now we’re being asked to pay to solve the problems that they have created.”

Though Pounds clearly has made a good point, disgruntled Beaconsfield residents continue to advance other, far less reasonable demands. Besides calling for a sound wall, they want motorists restricted to 70 km/h. They want photo radar along Highway 20 in Beaconsfield and they want the trains on the other side of the highway to carry less freight. They also want all the trains, including VIA Rail, to slow down.

All these demands are in addition to demanding a subsidized sound barrier: They can’t have it both ways.

Highways are needed to serve people who mostly are just passing through. They are the arteries of the urban economy, enabling goods and people to move efficiently in and out of Montreal.

Quebec has said that it will pay for half the $20 million cost of building a sound barrier. That’s the equivalent of $5 from every family of four in the province.

Trains cut road noise
So far, so good, even if some of those paying the bill live in communities that could also benefit from their own sound barrier. A commitment to Beaconsfield’s peace and quiet is a political commitment that might eventually affect Quebecers elsewhere.

To also impose restrictions on car and train traffic, though, is to turn back the clock. It would obviously be unfair to residents of outlying communities who rely on Highway 20. They are, after all, helping to pay for half of Beaconsfield’s sound wall.

Complaints about the trains that run through Beaconsfield, are hard to justify, though.

Every home that has been built along Beaconsfield’s rail right of way was constructed after those tracks were first laid down. Every home purchasor plainly knew that trains passed by daily.

These are not local spurs that we’re talking about. They are the transcontinental main lines that Canadian Pacific and Canadian National have built at great expense. Those are the very tracks that united Canada when Lord Strathcona pounded in the Last Spike, 127 years ago.

Canada’s economy continues to rely on those highways of steel to this day.

Ironically, without the container trains which Beaconsfield residents have vociferously complained about, tens of thousands more trucks would use adjacent Highway 20.

That would surely only add to the road roar that they endure, not to mention the congestion and pollution it would entail.

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