12/14/2012 07:18 EST | Updated 02/13/2013 05:12 EST

Highway 30 opens Saturday

The last section of highway 30, linking Vaudreuil-Dorion to Châteauguay, opens Saturday — allowing east-west traffic to bypass the island of Montreal at long last.

The 42-kilometre, $1.5-billion stretch of highway includes 30 overpasses and two major bridges, one of them a toll bridge linking Les Cèdres and Salaberry-de-Valleyfield.

The highway's construction dates back to the sixties. Contentious from the start, it was stalled for decades.

However, with growing congestion on Montreal's bridges and on highway 40, the main link traversing Montreal, in 2006 the federal and provincial governments set up a public-private partnership to complete the bypass.

"Mission accomplished," said Denis Léonard, the general manager of Société-nouvelle-autoroute-30. "On time, delivered as planned."

Already, the consortium's work has come under some criticism, with an architect raising the alarm about icicles of frozen salt water clearly visible in drainage holes on the underside of the bridge crossing the Beauharnois canal.

"The work is in progress," said Léonard. "It's just that the pipes are not installed. They'll be installed in a few days."

The consortium will operate the toll plaza for the next 3 decades and maintain the service roads for that period.

The toll fee is $1.50 per car and $1.15 per axle on every truck that uses the private portion of the highway.

Two-thousand transponders at $5 per unit have been sold already, in advance of the highway's opening. Motorists can also pay with credit cards or cash a traditional toll booths.

It's not clear yet how much the newly-completed link will ease congestion on the island of Montreal, but truckers forced until now to crawl along the Metropolitan highway appear to be uniformly delighted — toll fees and all.

"A truck costs us a hundred dollars an hour to run," said Marie-Chantal Goyette, the vice-president of Mexuscan Cargo. "We think that just crossing the bridge is going to save us close to half an hour. And if you're skipping entirely the Metropolitan, we're estimating that we're going to save close to an hour — or a hundred dollars."

Boon for Beauharnois, mayor predicts

Communities near the new highway are also welcoming its completion.

For Beauharnois, it means an end to heavy trucks passing through the heart of town — and a boon for development.

Mayor Claude Hénault said the town will now be linked by the new highway to larger nearby municipalities, and new businesses are already moving in.

He said the world's largest computer server centre is spending $125 million to establish itself in Beauharnois, and he's set to sign a deal with another business to create 75 more jobs in the town in the coming weeks.

Wetlands at risk, environmentalists warn

Environmentalists are wary, however.

Serge Bourdon, president of SCABRIC, an environmental group based in Châteauguay, said with the new highway comes new pressure to rezone wetlands and agricultural areas for residential development.

"The first spot [is] all the wetlands and the areas that are going to be lost," Bourdon said.

He said already, east of Beauharnois, fields are being turned into new homes.