Interview with Elizabeth Boivin, Director Environment
At CDPQ Infra, the Environment Department is responsible for both preserving natural environments, heritage, architecture and archaeological elements, and focusing on the people-oriented aspects, including the soundscape and impact of vibrations. Their contribution to the development of large-scale transformative projects such as the REM (currently under construction) and the REM de l’Est is crucial.
This team has been led since 2016 by Elizabeth Boivin, Director Environment, who has over 25 years of experience in the field. She explains her work and her team’s contribution to the design of CDPQ Infra’s major public transit infrastructure projects.
Q. What is the Environment team currently working on?
A. Our biggest project at the moment is the preparation of the environmental impact study for the REM de l’Est project. The study’s goal is to identify and evaluate the environmental impacts before the project is carried out in order to optimize the work.
We begin the study by describing the territory where the project will be integrated, at the environmental, heritage, architectural and human levels. We then describe the technical details of the proposed project and the potential impacts on the territory. Next, we articulate the mitigation measures (measures put in place to reduce the impacts) that are suggested in response to the issues.
There is also an important component dedicated to the operational phase, where environmental impact modelling is proposed to determine if the project complies with the criteria, for example in terms of noise or vibration levels, and, if necessary, to provide for mitigation measures starting in the design phase.
As for the REM that is under construction, the team ensures compliance with environmental requirements at the various construction sites along the 67-km route. We also have to develop environmental compensation projects for the residual impacts of the project.
Q. What surprises you most about your work?
A. What’s exciting is the diversity of disciplines we cover, including the archaeological component, which brings its share of surprises! Before construction begins on an infrastructure project, we excavate different areas, such as the sites where future stations will be located, to ensure that whatever is there is documented and brought to the surface for study. This is a prerequisite for the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications. These excavations have enabled us on several occasions during construction of the REM to make discoveries that inform us on Montréal’s history. The Irish cemetery, near the Victoria Bridge, is a good example where we developed a unique technique for conducting archaeological surveys.
In the case of the REM de l’Est, the heritage aspect is significant, especially on René-Lévesque Boulevard. Our multidisciplinary teams are currently carrying out an analysis of the built heritage.
Q. What is done to ensure that a project such as the REM complies with the highest environmental standards?
A. The environment is at the core of our priorities. Our team works closely with the Engineering team, whose mandate is to plan the route. This allows us to be one step ahead in the project and to influence choices according to our environmental studies and analyses.
We surround ourselves with several consultants with specialized expertise: acousticians, archaeologists, biologists, experts in built heritage, urban planners, engineers, experts in contaminated soil, etc. Our collaboration with these experts ensures that we have detailed data providing an accurate picture of the project’s potential impacts, allowing us to make the necessary decisions regarding the route and structure.
Q. What is done to ensure that the construction of major infrastructure projects like those of CDPQ Infra has a minimal impact on the environment?
A. Our team uses the “avoid, minimize, compensate” strategy for environmental protection. This means we first try to avoid environmental issues from the very outset of the project, during the design phase (the phase before the project’s construction). For what cannot be avoided, we determine effective ways to minimize the impacts through mitigation measures. For example, in the case of noise pollution that may be generated during the system’s construction and operation, we can make use of acoustic screens or silencers on the equipment. And finally, what cannot be minimized is compensated. For example, when we have to cut down trees or shrubs, we commit to replanting them.
Q. What can be done to offset GHG emissions to make a project carbon-neutral?
A. To have a project that has a carbon-neutral footprint, measures must be found to offset the CO2 emissions produced during the project’s construction. And since the REM project is completely electric, the project’s operational phase does not emit green house gaz (GHG) and so our actions are focused on the construction phase.
Several elements must be considered, such as the construction methods, the schedule, the number and types of machines used, etc. This is why we start planning our compensation measures even before the project’s construction phase begins. We create models to estimate the tonnes of CO2 that will be produced and we propose methods to offset these GHG emissions. GHG offsets can be achieved, for example, through tree planting or purchasing carbon credits.
For the REM that is under construction, we have committed to planting 250,000 trees to offset GHGs, and we’ll have an equally ambitious compensation plan for the REM de l’Est.
Q. Which city around the world inspires you in the area of integration?
A. Portland, Oregon, inspires me with its transit-oriented development (TOD) approach, which aims to develop areas in a city in a way that encourages public transit use. Portland implemented this vision focused on public transit and population density in the 1970s. This has allowed them to limit urban sprawl.
I’m also inspired by the development of technologies and the diversification of transportation services, offering users a variety of transportation modes: car-sharing, Netlift, BIXI, pedestrian overpasses, etc.
Q. What are the positive environmental impacts of major electrified public transit infrastructure projects?
A. Since the REM is electric, there are no GHG emissions, which has a major positive impact on the environment. A project such as the REM de l’Est will help rehabilitate contaminated industrial wastelands that have resulted from the petrochemical industries that have been established on this territory for decades. Integration of the structures will also make it possible to improve the landscaping and revitalize certain sectors.
The main environmental impact of major electrified public transit infrastructure projects is to encourage behavioural changes in citizens so that they move away from solo driving. It’s by offering a reliable, fast and pleasant public transit system that we’ll be able to bring about this change.
I’m firmly convinced that once Montrealers get a taste of the REM, there’ll be no turning back. The routes have been designed to meet current needs, according to the centres of attraction, population movements and the existing transit network. They have the potential to impact not only work-related travel, but also travel for leisure, education, health and more.
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