Roads are an essential component of Québec's economy as they ensure the movement of passengers and goods. It is therefore important that each region, regardless of its population density or size, or its resources, be served by a road infrastructure. To ensure the development and maintenance of the road network, the Ministère must take a number of factors into account, including considerable distances, the presence of many watercourses, and a harsh variable climate.
The Ministère's objectives regarding the road network
Ensure better conservation of the network
Maintain efforts to improve the network
Adapt the network to changing travel needs by maximizing use of the existing infrastructures
Development efforts are made to maintain and develop a region's economic activity and ensure the safety of road network users.
A modern, efficient road network
Québec's road network includes approximately 185,000 kilometres of roads. The Ministère manages some 29,000 kilometres of freeways (commonly known in Québec as autoroutes), national highways (Québec's primary highways), regional highways (Québec's secondary highways) and collector roads, as well as 4,700 bridges and overpasses; 1,200 kilometres of resource access roads and 3,600 kilometres of mining roads. Municipalities in turn manage 92,000 kilometres of highways, streets, local roads. The Ministère offers financial assistance for the maintenance and improvement of local roads as well as for the restoration of municipal art structures. The estimated other 60,000 kilometres of roads are managed by other provincial or federal departments and by Hydro-Québec. The gross replacement cost of the road infrastructures under the Ministère's responsibility is estimated at over $30 billion for the entire province.
Number of motor vehicles constantly on the rise
Within a period of 15 years, the number of passenger vehicles increased by 68 per cent, rising from 2,285,479 in 1985 to 3,843,685 in 2000, while the number of heavy-duty trucks went up by 34.5 per cent, from 80,054 in 1985 to 107,678 in 2000. The total number of motor vehicles rose by 42 per cent, going from 3,281,021 vehicles in 1985 to 4,660,987 in 2000. Moreover, in the 1970s, the legal axle load rose from eight to ten tonnes.
The main challenge facing the ministère des Transports is to provide a road network that meets growing travel needs and that can withstand a significant increase in heavy-vehicle traffic. Facilitating free traffic flow and protecting the road network are thus key objectives in its research and development activities, which are designed to increase the network's durability and improve road user safety.
Québec: A particular context
The vast size of the territory, the low population density, harsh climate and heavy traffic in the large urban centres make Québec one of the most difficult areas in the world in which to maintain and operate a road network. While half the population is concentrated in the Montréal and Québec City regions, the road network spans the entire populated territory of Québec.
Climatic conditions in Québec are particularly harsh: within only a few hours, temperatures can vary as much as 25°C. For more than four months each year, the ground freezes to depths ranging from 1.2 to 3 metres, depending on the region. Precipitation is heavy (in the form of rain and snow), sometimes reaching as much as 1,000 mm/year. In the spring, after resisting the deformation caused by deep-level freezing, roads must be able to withstand major loads during the thaw period when pavement strength is reduced by 40 per cent.
Given these particular conditions, it is difficult both to compare pavements in Québec with those in other countries and to import technologies without first conducting in-depth analyses.
Priority placed on research and development
The Québec road network, which was built largely in the 1960s and 1970s, is showing clear signs of aging. The ministère des Transports du Québec is responsible for some 29,000 kilometres of road infrastructures, including freeways (commonly known in Québec as autoroutes), national highways (Québec's primary highways), regional highways (Québec's secondary highways) and collector roads.
In a difficult economic context, it is therefore faced with having to carry out numerous major maintenance and rehabilitation works, making it all the more important that high-performance techniques and materials be used in order to ensure the longevity of the structures.
With the fast pace of change in pavement design methods and knowledge and the emergence of new technologies and products, Transports Québec gives priority to research and development. This represents an important shift that has made it possible to develop innovative techniques, adapt various technologies to the Québec context, and design and perfect new equipment.