With today’s closure of Bellevue for repaving, the only alternative to Cameron and Montée Cadieux is Montée Manson, especially for motorists bound for the Oka ferry. So I biked over to Hudson’s oldest road to watch the rally.
Montée Manson stretches for about three kilometres between Main Road and the traffic light on Harwood Blvd. at Bédard. There’s a consensus among local historians that the road predates the Conquest and likely follows a track that existed before the European invasion. If so, Montée Manson hasn’t seen much improvement in all that time. It’s your typical rutted, muddy farm road, wide enough for a tractor and haywagon, but certainly not for two-way traffic most of its length. Apart from the approaches to the train-a-day-each-way exo rail crossing, it is unpaved. It’s not ploughed in winter, giving snowmobilers and ATVers a route to and from the Lake of Two Mountains. This time of the year, hunters make up most of the out-of-town traffic.
Over the years, there’s been talk of making Montée Manson into a useable thoroughfare. A 2006 plan called for ending the AMT line at a transport terminus to serve St. Lazare and Hudson commuters. That would have allowed the line west of there to be converted into a recreational corridor. Of course, Vaudreuil-Dorion mayor Guy Pilon didn’t like it. He still wants everything to terminate at the grossly congested terminus on de la Gare and he sits on the CMM public transit committee. Hudson’s train may be a deuce, but it’s a wild card in this poker game. There may never be a Montée Manson terminus, but there will be a railway crossing as long as there’s a train.
Latterly, Hudson has come under pressure from the Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC to upgrade Montée Manson. About a third of the way down from Bédard, there’s a concrete culvert that can no longer handle the flow of water coming down from St. Lazare, Added to that is the runoff from adjacent farm fields since the advent of government subsidies for agricultural drainage. It allows farmers to work their fields earlier, but all that runoff has to go somewhere.
The result is a spectacularly muddy and potholed stretch of maybe 500 yards. You can tell the drivers redirected to Montée Manson by their GPS plotters. They’re the folks sitting bolt upright, white knuckles death-gripping the steering wheel at 10 km/h as they try to avoid the massive washouts in their once-pristine vehicles.
Then there are the locals. A woman at the wheel of a white GMC Yukon drove the gauntlet of mud like it was any Hudson street. Not fast, not slow, just steady.
The daredevils revel in the challenge of blasting through the gumbo. My favourite photo from today, at the top of this page, was the sport in the black pickup who gunned it so he could splash me as he barrelled through the filth. I was already filthy, so I stood my ground to get the shot. He reminded me of Hudson’s great rallies and wonderful times driving roads like this.
A minority wants Montée Manson kept open. If we do nothing, the culvert will eventually wash out. Replacing it represents a cost to Hudson taxpayers of somewhere north of $200,000, and that’s to keep it as a muddy three-season farm road. Widening, draining and repairing the surface would easily swallow a million bucks and that doesn’t include paving. Even gravel roads need annual maintenance — grading, adding gravel, spraying dust suppressants in summer and ploughing in winter.
Add to that the cost of patrolling and cleanup, because roads in uninhabited areas become dumps for those who have no scruples against dumping construction waste, junk and trash to avoid having to truck it to an eco-centre or pay to have it removed. A pile of junk is an open invitation for more piles.
Mayor Jamie and I are among those who think Montée Manson should be closed and turned into a linear park. Farmers with fields adjacent to the road could be given keys to the gate and responsibility for ensuring that nobody else has vehicular access. It would be open to pedestrians and cyclists. That failing culvert could be replaced with something less expensive than the structure the MRC wants us to pay for.
I guess the question is whether we’re losing something if we close Montée Manson to vehicle traffic. I don’t think so, and I suspect the majority of Hudson taxpayers would agree it’s the best path forward. There’s something timeless about Montée Manson, especially when there’s no traffic. I’ve felt the same feeling on the Old Gosford Road between Quebec City and Sherbrooke, on the Old Stagecoach Road between Knowlton and Lake Memphremagog. There’s something magic in walking a path used over the centuries.
In the mist that settles into the hollows after a fall shower, one can conjure up visions of native families, French and English soldiers and settlers, making their way to and from the protected bay that gives onto their highway, the Ottawa River. A road like this deserves better than traffic in a hurry to get elsewhere.