After years of delays, the crumbling concrete overpasses of the Cogswell Interchange are now expected to fall this winter.
That’s one takeaway from a staff report headed to Halifax regional council on Tuesday recommending in favour of increasing the budget for the Cogswell redevelopment project and awarding the tender to build to Dexter Construction for $95.7 million.
As the Halifax Examiner reported in June, Dexter submitted the lower of two bids for the project, which will see the overpasses at the entrance to downtown Halifax replaced with a new street grid and several developable land parcels.
In the report to council, project manager Donna Davis and project director John Spinelli recommend council move forward despite a big budget increase.
The budget for the entire project, set just a year ago, was about $95 million. That number was to include $84 million for construction and $11.3 million for professional services, land acquisition, the project office, and fees and permits. If approved by council, the new budget will be $122.6 million, an increase of $27.4 million.
“Staff is of the opinion that the lowest bid, while higher than estimated, reflects fair market value and is confident in recommending the award to Regional Council,” Davis and Spinelli wrote.
The budget increase is chalked up to “the influence of inflation and higher construction costs since the time of the original project estimate.”
Davis and Spinelli recommended against any cuts to the project scope to reduce the budget, noting the cost is expected to be offset by the sale of the new land parcels created, which will eventually bring in millions in new tax revenue over a 10-year period.
“Any modification to the public realm components of the project would have a negligible impact on the overall project cost but a significant impact in terms of the social and economic impact of the project,” the managers wrote.
Construction will start with Dexter building back-up roads to keep traffic moving through the area while construction is underway. The goal is to get those done before asphalt plants close in December.
“With the by-pass roads in place, construction of the full project can commence. This is expected to happen in January 2022,” Davis and Spinelli wrote.
Heading into the first phase of construction, there are still some loose ends to tie up.
Davis and Spinelli advised that most land acquisition talks are complete, but negotiation is still ongoing with Canadian Apartment Properties Real Estate Investment Trust (CAPREIT) and Metropolitan Entertainment Group (MEG) Holdings for land, along with the company that controls Purdy’s Wharf, Great West Life Realty Advisors, for a stormwater easement.
“Negotiations to date have proceeded well with all three entities. As well, the acquisitions and easement are not required until later phases of the project,” Davis and Spinelli wrote.
Also unfinished are negotiations with Nova Scotia Power, Halifax Water and telecoms to bury all wiring infrastructure in the Cogswell district underground. The plan is to get those utilities to pay for some of the cost of that move underground. For Nova Scotia Power and Halifax Water, that will require approval from the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board. The UARB already approved a plan for a district energy system for the area using Halifax Water’s sewage treatment plant.
As a sort of insurance policy, staff drew up site-specific amendments to the municipal streets bylaw to require any infrastructure in the area to be placed underground. Those amendments are recommended for first reading as part of the recommendation to council on Tuesday.
The meeting starts at 10am with a committee of the whole session on the city’s road design rules.
Post covid and in light of the storm damage to other East Coast cities suggest that the continued reliance on massive tax income from downtown properties at or close to sea level is almost delusional. Folks with enough income will probably continue to work from home and skip the regular downtown commute. Also, look a look at the recent housing trends in major cities suggests that high rise buildings with elevators are no longer desirable….The hot real estate markets are the suburbs with single family homes. Not considering how Covid and recent hurricanes will affect land use is just foolish. HRM will be left with expensive unused buildings that will not raise enough tax monies to warrant building. Rather than continue with the Cogswell plan, maybe it is time to scale back and consider applying the planning to creating public resilience and solutions. We all know the world has changed in the last 2 years. So change accordingly.
After forever planning to improve / fix the Cogswell Interchange nightmare I find it really something hard to believe that work may actually be starting soon. Forgive me if I am in the ‘I will believe it when I see it’ camp.