The entrance to Montreal’s airport rumbled with honks, groans and a few profanities on a recent afternoon as a herd of cars inched forward on the road leading to the terminals.
The gridlock proved too much for some anxious travellers to bear. More than a dozen ditched their rides, some dashed hundreds of metres alongside traffic, luggage in tow, in frantic attempts to catch their flights — or to simply skip the wait. Their heads bobbed between vehicles on the boulevard that branches off from the highway. There is no sidewalk.
Among them was Nick Galbraith, whose father deposited him on the side of the road, hundreds of metres from the airport. “It’s an embarrassment,” Galbraith said of the traffic on Thursday. “Obviously ridiculous.”
A post-pandemic surge in car traffic at Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport this summer has led to frustration, confusion and desperation. The city’s public transit authority has scrambled to find detours for the airport shuttle, and the company that manages the site has opened more free parking and added traffic-control staff. So far, it appears nothing has worked to ease the bottlenecks.
Uber driver Fadi Istanboulie said it regularly takes him 30 minutes to travel the roughly two kilometres between the highway exit and passenger drop-off zone during peak traffic hours, which he says are between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. He issued a plea for airport officials to address the situation: “They need to find a solution.”
Stanley Bastien, who has worked as a chauffeur for 27 years and currently drives a limousine, said the recent road congestion is the worst he has ever experienced at Montreal’s only international passenger airport, located about 20 kilometres west of downtown.
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“I’ve never seen this in the whole 27 years,” he said, noting that pedestrians on the highway exit ramp have become a daily sight. The traffic, he continued, “never stops and it feels like nobody is doing anything.”
Bastien claims the traffic flow has been deteriorating for about a year as air travel has risen sharply after the pandemic-related slump.
In a statement, the company that manages Montréal-Trudeau acknowledged the situation, pointing to what it called a “significant increase” in travel since the beginning of the summer. Aéroports de Montréal hasn’t yet released its results from July and August but counted 5.3 million passengers at the airport between April and June, 6.1 per cent more than in the same three-month period in 2019, and up 32.9 per cent from 2022.
The company said it introduced several measures to mitigate congestion this year: it deployed more traffic-control officers in one area, opened a third free parking area, changed the route of the airport employee shuttle bus to avoid the passenger drop-off zone, and relocated the Uber service pick-up area.
Aéroports de Montréal also expects its new parking garage, currently under construction, will further relieve pressure on pick-up and drop-off zones. In the meantime, it encourages travellers and drivers to “plan their journeys carefully, checking road conditions and traffic flow before heading for the airport,” the company said.
Planning ahead didn’t eliminate frustration for Ben Borowiecki and Judith Durkin, tourists from the U.K. who were among the travellers abandoning their rides just off the highway on Thursday. They were early for their flight, but impatient to get to the airport after what they said was a 30-minute wait on the exit ramp.
“We saw that this was going to happen and so planned accordingly,” Borowiecki said of the slog. “But it meant that we got to spend less time in Montreal (than) we hoped.”
“We’re just baffled as to what’s causing this. It’s all a bit crazy,” Durkin remarked. “It’s a bit mad. We usually try to do public transport to the airport but that was looking to be even longer.”
Unlike its namesake Boeing aircraft, the 747 bus from downtown Montreal to the airport is subject to the same terrestrial traffic woes as every other road vehicle travelling to Montréal-Trudeau. In a statement, the city’s public transit agency — Société de transport de Montréal — said it too has had to contend with the “problematic” situation on the road leading to the airport in recent months. The agency has been implementing detours for the 747 in collaboration with Aéroports de Montréal so that the bus can avoid the worst of the congestion.
Private chauffeurs and taxi drivers don’t have that luxury. Bastien said many of his go-to shortcuts are now regularly clogged, too.
Out of options and with no solution in sight, taxi driver Sahouane Radouane said he’s considering finding another job. “It’s a catastrophe,” he said. “We’re tired of working with this.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2023.