The flyover bicycle bridge planned for the Halifax side of the Macdonald is going to cost nearly double the original estimate.

That’s according to a report to Halifax regional council on Tuesday by project manager Ahmed Allahham.

Council approved the plan for a flyover connecting the Macdonald Bridge bikeway to North Street in 2017. The current design requires cyclists coming to Halifax to ride down to Barrington Street and then back up North Street. Likewise, cyclists going to Dartmouth have to ride down to Barrington Street and then back up the ramp to the bridge.

An architectural rendering shows the area where the Macdonald Bridge meets the Halifax side of the harbour, with an added secondary bridge for bicycles.
The current design for the flyover from the Macdonald Bridge bikeway to North Street. Credit: HRM

The flyover would connect directly to North Street with a much more manageable grade. Those headed for Barrington Street anyway would use the existing hairpin turn ramp.

The project also includes changes to the intersection of North and Gottingen streets. It’s a key part of HRM’s planned all ages and abilities (AAA) bike network.

An architectural rendering shows an intersection with a bike lane through it.
The plan for changes to the intersection of North and Gottingen streets. Credit: HRM

“The 2017 estimate for the changes on the Halifax side (flyover structure plus intersection changes) was approximately $6.5 million,” Allahham wrote.

“A combination of better understanding of the project challenges, increasing project complexity, widened scope, and yearly increases to construction costs (particularly since 2020) have resulted in the most recent construction cost estimates reaching approximately $12.7 million. The project budget will continue to be tracked and has some uncertainty due to rising inflation, market and labour shortages.”

Consultants will take another look at design

The original cost estimate was based on a 30% complete design, which is common in infrastructure projects. There are now concerns that the 30% design was flawed.

“The complexity of the Macdonald Bridge and North Street site has also proven more challenging than initially anticipated. Additional site constraints have been identified throughout the project, including utility conflicts which have raised concerns about the
quality and suitability of the 30% design concepts presented thus far,” Allahham wrote.

“To address 30% design concerns regarding the suitability of the current design, ensure that the project has not overlooked any potentially valuable design options, and provide cost optimization, a Value Engineering pilot exercise will be carried out for the Macdonald Bridge Bikeway project prior to advancement to the next design phase.”

That’s expected to go to tender this month.

Councillor says this is the place to spend

Coun. Sam Austin, who represents Dartmouth Centre, called the bridge connection the “absolute centre” of HRM’s cycling network.

“This is the most important piece, is that route over the bridge,” Austin said. “If we are going to spend those kinds of bucks that’s the spot that we do it.”

Cyclists ride on the Macdonald Bridge on Friday, May 7, 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

Drivers should appreciate that the flyover is really designed for them, Austin said.

“There actually is a very much cheaper solution for bikes. You cut a hole in the fence, put up a traffic light, and then when cars are coming over the bridge, they have to stop and wait when cyclists are passing,” Austin said.

“The flyover ramp really at its heart, it’s kind of a car project because what it’s doing is it’s getting cyclists out of the way of vehicles.”

And while the cost is rising, HRM is still paying a small fraction, just 17%, with the provincial and federal governments paying the remaining 83%. Based on the new estimate of $12,719,107, HRM’s cost is $2,162,248.

It’s a significant sum for a project like this. But for comparison, HRM budgeted about $47 million for repaving streets in 2022-2023.

Austin said he wasn’t clear on whether the other levels of government have committed to funding their respective higher amounts. He plans to ask about that on Tuesday.

The motion in front of council only asks for a budget increase on the consulting fees for WSP Canada. The consultant needs an extra $113,469, taxes in, to accommodate the growing scope of its work.

Bike network behind schedule

Allahham acknowledged in the report that HRM has blown the deadline for implementing its AAA bike network, which should be done now.

“The original target required adding about 45kms of protected bike lanes, multi-use
pathways and local street bikeways over a four-year period. Since that time, about 11kms of facilities have been added,” Allahham wrote.

“The inability to meet the target is due to a number of factors, including: lack of understanding of the full scope of work that would be involved in building these facilities; internal capacity; need for property acquisition; requirement for provincial approval of some design elements (bike crossings and bike signals), lack of clear industry design standards, confirming designs meet accessibility requirements, development encroachments; and interdependencies with other projects (e.g. Cogswell redevelopment).”

One part of the Macdonald Bridge bikeway project did happen more or less on time. The Dartmouth-side bike lanes on Wyse Road, which the Halifax Examiner detailed here, are complete now.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. All-ages? The young and strong can continue to push their bikes up the hill like they do now, and so can the old, like me. I’m almost 79 and take the bridge year-round many days of the week. As for the infirm, the buses take bicycles across the bridge. So many people have desperate needs that $12M could help alleviate that it’s shameful to waste that much money on a bicycle vanity project. Pushing a bike up a hill is hard work at first but gets easier with practice. Granted, practice doesn’t always cure laziness but we can’t afford to cater to the lazy. Even if we could, it’s a bad idea (leads to poor health).

  2. The Wyse Road bike lanes aren’t actually finished. The new bike signals have been wrapped in black plastic for months, and last I heard, they were missing a component and couldn’t be used yet.

  3. I’m so tired of waiting for this project. Every time I bike over the bridge, I curse the current design. It’s one of the worst pieces of infrastructure in the city and is by far the part of my commute I dread most. This needs to get built with no compromises.

    And to the comment above about getting rid of the “manageable grade” in the plan, not everyone can afford a $10K e-bike. This project should be about making cycling more accessible, not just catering to the ones who currently cycle.

  4. Why can’t we just do a fraction of that flyover – the end piece. All that is lost is the “manageable grade” We’ve been managing it fine so far and with the growing use and technological advances of e-bikes, the grade won’t be a problem for those who may consider themselves “active-transpo commuters” on e-bikes, rather than hard-core cyclists (who are doing fine).

    1. This project needs to stay on the backburner – we have a crisis in healthcare and a crisis in housing. The province needs to reduce the number of people working on the peninsula – over 80% of the population lives off the peninsula and increases at a faster rate than the population on the peninsula. The future of HRM lies outside the peninsula and we need planners and politicians who understand the challenges we face. It is environmentally sound to live close to your place of work.

      1. Sure, most people live off the peninsula, but the peninsula is much denser. We need that density, whether it’s on it or off. Yes, we need to reduce car dependency everywhere, but the areas off the peninsula simply weren’t designed for density or walkability. We should change that, but it’s going to be expensive. More expensive than improving things where density already exists.

      2. I agree.
        I think this is a poor allocation of public money (even if most of it is Federal) that could better be far spent elsewhere where it’s desperately needed.

  5. When will there be truly safe cycling and pedestrian access from Herring Cove Road, Joseph Howe Ave., and St. Margaret’s Bay Road to peninsular Halifax? What about a cycling/pedestrian bridge across the North West Arm? HRM won’t have a truly integrated, accessible, and safe Active Transportation Network until those connections are built.