Tunnel between Quebec City and Lévis: It’s the Economy…

Updated on / dernière mise à jour : 05/18/2021

** Update – May 2021

The government of Quebec presented to the media its tunnel project between Quebec City and Lévis on May 17, 2021. We learned a certain amount of new information about this important project for the region:

  • Tunnel length: 8.3 km.
  • Special feature: it will be a two-storey tunnel (three traffic lanes per floor). Two of the six traffic lanes will be reserved for public transit (electric buses and carpooling).
  • Diameter: 19.4 meters.
  • Project costs: between 6 and 7 billion dollars (including a variation of 10% to 35% potentially bringing the project to a final amount of 10 billion dollars).
  • Entrances and exits of the tunnel: sectors of Avenue Monseigneur-Bourget on the South Shore (access to Highway 20) and Boulevard Wilfrid-Hamel on the North Shore (access to the Laurentian Highway).
  • Additional tunnel exits: towards the Dufferin-Montmorency highway, Parliament Hill (Assemblée nationale) and the Jean-Paul-L’Allier sector.
  • Approximate tunnel life: 100 years.
  • Daily traffic: approximately 50,000 vehicles (i.e.: a little less than half of the daily traffic specific to the Louis-Hippolyte-La Fontaine bridge-tunnel in Montreal).
  • Deadline for the inauguration of the tunnel: 10 years (2031).
  • Toll: the Quebec government does not seem to want to impose a toll for the use of the tunnel.

It is therefore an important project but one that raises new questions:

  • The staggering cost of the project. Ten billion Canadian dollars for an 8 km tunnel is the equivalent of:
    • five Burj Khalifa towers (cost of US $ 1.5 billion for this tower built between 2004 and 2010); or
    • a little less than half the cost of the Eurotunnel completed in 1994 (cost of US $ 21 billion for this 50 km tunnel); or
    • more than twice the cost of building the One World Trade Center completed in 2013 (cost of US $ 3.9 billion); or
    • one third of the cost of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) which will be completed in 2025 at a cost of US $ 25 billion.
  • The North Shore exit/entry, although located outside the Saint-Roch district, risks complicating traffic on the Laurentian (973) and Félix-Leclerc (40) highways. An exit/entry located in the D’Estimauville sector, already well served by the Dufferin-Montmorency and Félix-Leclerc highways (located to the east), could have been interesting.
  • The planned construction time for such a tunnel (8 km), ten years, is very (too!) long. In comparison:
    • the 18 km Zhongnanshan tunnel (the longest in China) was completed in five years (2002-2007);
    • the longest underwater tunnel in the world with 14.4 km, the Ryfylke tunnel located in Norway, was completed in six years (2013-2019);
    • the Mount Ovit tunnel (14.3 km), located in Turkey, was completed in six years (2012-2018).
  • Not wanting to ask for a contribution via a users’ toll raises a number of questions, notably in regard to the public finances. With a possible bill of ten billion dollars, this sum will therefore have to be paid in full by the citizens of Quebec and Canada (the federal government should normally contribute to the project). A toll could allow governments to recover part of the sums paid in order to reinvest them elsewhere (health, education?). Moreover, if a toll is eventually implemented, motorists could want to use the bridges instead of the tunnel, which could be problematic. A win-win solution could be to leave the tunnel toll-free for motorists but to oblige heavy trucks to cross the river via the tunnel while requiring them to pay a toll. Eliminating truck traffic on the bridges would also benefit the life and maintenance of the renowned Pont de Québec and Pont Pierre-Laporte.
  • Given the much higher costs for the project, would there not be grounds for questioning the type of tunnel desired by the entire population in order to meet the real needs of citizens? Instead of building a six-lane/two-story tunnel, why not consider a less expensive two-lane tunnel dedicated solely to public transport (electric buses). This would allow citizens of both shores to cross the river quickly while easily connecting to the new Réseau express de la Capitale (REC). That said, it is indeed possible that such a six-lane tunnel is necessary since one must consider its usefulness over a long period of time, at least a century… I wonder what demographers think about this tunnel. We tend to analyze projects based uniquely on our current reality while the needs of future generations must also be considered. Food for thought.

A few interesting articles on the subject…

Gabriel Béland, Un tunnel à plus de 7 milliards entre Québec et Lévis, La Presse, May 17th 2021.

Global News, Quebec City’s proposed third link tunnel to cost $7B, take 10 years to build, May 17th 2021.

Jocelyne Richer, Quebec City-Lévis tunnel could cost more than $7B, take 10 years to build, Presse Canadienne, May 18th 2021.

Jonathan Lavoie, 7 G$ pour un tunnel de 8,3 km sur deux étages entre Québec et Lévis, Radio-Canada, May 17th 2021.

Stéphanie Martin, Tunnel Québec-Lévis: une «aberration», estiment des citoyens, Le Journal de Québec, May 17th 2021.

The Canadian Press, Quebec-Lévis tunnel project to cost at least $7 billion over 10 years, May 17th 2021.


** Update – February 2020

Some news agencies outline that a new route for the Quebec-Lévis tunnel is now being considered and that other options may emerge later. This most recent route seems to be an interesting answer in regard to a number of problems specific to the initial route located further east in the Beauport sector:

– lower cost;
– easier ground to dig;
– a shorter sub-river distance compared to the initial route;
– a shorter detour for citizens;
– the possibility of an exclusive underground corridor for electric buses;
– possible common stations between the third link and the future tram; and
– an obvious proximity to downtown Quebec, notably.

Tunnel entre Québec et Lévis - nouveau tracé envisagé

A new article was also recently published on the subject…

Spencer Van Dyk, Mayors of Quebec City, Lévis welcome newest route for 3rd link: a tunnel linking cities’ downtown cores, CBC News, January 30th 2020.


Quebec City is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and, according to Travel + Leisure, the best Canadian city in 2017! As a citizen of this municipality, it gives me a lot of pride, certainly, but also a certain critical vision. This analytical look at our city is important and the mayor of Quebec City is flocking in the same direction by proposing to its citizens to share their ideas with the rest of the community.

The city has been experiencing – for some years now – a problem linked to increasingly severe road congestion and Mayor Labeaume has been trying for some time to respond to this issue through initiatives, in particular a structuring public transport network. Oddly enough, the mayor does not want to include the city of Lévis as to his plans, and this therefore encourages the maintenance of Quebec City as a “horseshoe” type city, a concept that is both rare and unlikely to favor the regional economy.

Québec et Lévis
Quebec City and Lévis: the horseshoe dilemma

Fortunately, many voices are beginning to rise in order to demand a third way out of the city towards the South Shore, what we call La troisième voie in French. Hoping that it would not be located in Sainte-Foy, at the site of the two existing bridges, but rather at the intersection of La Capitale and Dufferin-Montmorency highways, a tunnel could finally allow citizens of the eastern part of the city ​​to easily cross the river in order to easily go to work on the South Shore.

Presently, a citizen from the Beauport sector who is offered a job at the Desjardins Group headquarters in Lévis (a major employer in the region, with thousands of employees) must literally face an hour or more of road traffic. Moreover, the possibilities to avoid such congestion are limited:

1) drive on La Capitale and Henri-IV highways to cross one of the bridges and then face the increasing traffic in the direction of Lévis;

2) opt for the Dufferin-Montmorency highway, hope that the Vieux-Port is not clogged by traffic then drive along the St Lawrence River, cross one of the bridges and continue in the direction of Lévis; or

3) use the Quebec City-Lévis ferry services.

By driving on highways, it is about fifty kilometers versus five to ten kilometers if a tunnel existed in the eastern section of the city (depending on the planned exit of the tunnel on the South Shore side). For its part, the ferry remains a wise choice at the present time, despite certain shortcomings: high costs to do the crossing, possible difficulties linked to traffic in the Vieux-Port and potential delays and mechanical problems. In order to promote the ferry, it could be interesting for drivers to be offered substantial discounts if they do work on the South Shore. For the moment, this is not the case. So, when it comes time for citizens of Quebec City’s eastern part to opt for a job on the South Shore, they’ll have to be ready to face the traffic, pay for the cost of using their vehicle for a round-trip journey of about 100 kilometers daily (car-pooling could certainly save money though), pay again if they use the ferry and shove more money if their employer establishes parking fees…

In the long term, the tunnel solution appears reasonable and, by considering secondary exit and entry routes for the tunnel in the western part of Île d’Orléans, it would also solve this island’s bridge problem, which is nearing its end of useful life. Moreover, it must not be forgotten that building a new bridge for the needs of the citizens of the island could cost a billion dollars or more.


Big Dig road vehicle tunnel (Boston, USA)
Big Dig road vehicle tunnel (Boston, USA) – CC BY 2.0 (https://goo.gl/sZ7V7x)

But how much would the tunnel cost – or rather the tunnels – since it would probably be two parallel tunnels? According to Professor Bruno Massicotte of the École Polytechnique in Montreal, such a 7.8-kilometer-long and 15.1-meter-wide infrastructure could be implemented and completed for about 3.5 to 4.5 billion dollars and operating and maintenance costs of 2.3 billion dollars (2016) over a hundred years. According to the engineer, it could take between ten and fifteen years for the completion of the tunnel.

And who will pay? This is an interesting question! The citizens of Prince Edward Island, with a population of about 150,000, are entitled to their 12.9-kilometer bridge (initial value of a billion dollars) since the spring of 1997 but they have the disadvantage of having to pay each time they leave their island: $46.50 in 2017 and no rebates for those who reside in this small province. And for the new Champlain Bridge in Montreal: the Trudeau government intends to fully subsidize this new bridge for 4 billion dollars, without requiring any toll (https://goo.gl/o8yiFU). Given the large population in the region, almost 750,000 in the Capitale-Nationale and approximately 150,000 in Lévis, would the federal government be as generous for a Quebec City-Lévis tunnel?

For the citizens of Quebec City’s eastern sector who could eventually drive through the tunnel in order to go to work on the South Shore, it would take them about fifteen minutes to get across, they would save a lot of money, gas and time – and certainly gain in productivity. Less stress, more time for their loved ones and, above all, on time for work! All that remains is to convince politicians, reticent engineers and, let us not forget, numerous citizens who remain skeptical.

Finally, here are some very interesting articles related to urban transport:

  1. TunnelTalk, Cost benefits of large-diameter bored tunnels (2015), https://tunneltalk.com/TunnelTECH-Apr2015-Arup-large-diameter-soft-ground-bored-tunnel-review.php
  2. Julia Page, Quebec City-Lévis tunnel feasible but costly (2016), http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/quebec-city-lC3A9vis-tunnel-1.3760466
  3. Eric Mack,Elon Musk’s Boring Company Is Actually Digging Hyperloop Tunnels (2017), https://www.forbes.com/sites/ericmack/2017/05/17/elon-musk-the-boring-company-hyperloop-tunnels-spacex-tesla/#6e9fa7f64787

Robert Radford, M.A.

Related article: French version / version française.


Robert Radford

[email protected]

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