As the municipality gets on with the Cogswell redevelopment project, “ripping the Band-Aid off,” Halifax Transit users are going to face a six-minute delay for more than a year.

But Donna Davis, project manager, told reporters on Monday there is a trade-off: a new transit terminal for Barrington Street will be done a year early, in 2024.

Davis gave media a tour of the site in downtown Halifax as the first phase of the project nears completion.

A construction site is seen on a sunny day.
Work on the Cogswell interchange redevelopment project is seen on Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. Credit: Zane Woodford

The contractor, Dexter Construction, has torn down part of the aging series of overpasses, built a temporary access road and multi-use path, and started landscaping an extension of Granville Street.

Next, workers will finish the roundabout at the base of Cornwallis Street, tear down the bridge connecting Cogswell Street to Barrington Street, move the mound of dirt leading Barrington up to that bridge, and begin grading to build the newly-aligned Barrington Street.

“It’s absolutely an enormous amount of material that has to be removed, that will bring these various lots down to grade, down to the grade of the new streets so that new structures can be built,” Davis said.

A construction site is seen from above on a sunny day. In the background, there's a bridge.
Work on the Cogswell interchange redevelopment project is seen on Monday. The trench in the centre shows the new alignment of Barrington Street. Credit: Zane Woodford

Last year, Dexter determined a planned temporary road to keep transit moving through the site wasn’t feasible.

“Not impossible, but extremely difficult and very disruptive,” Davis said.

Six-minute delay for buses

The municipality has since come to an agreement with the contractor that will see Cogswell Street closed without a replacement from October until May or June 2024. Buses including the flagship Route 1 use Cogswell Street to get from Barrington to Gottingen Street.

A woman motions to her right while speaking. Behind her another woman looks on, and a bus passes behind them with an "out of service" sign displayed.
Cogswell project manager Donna Davis speaks with reporters on Monday. Credit: Zane Woodford

During that time, buses will continue to use the current bus terminal in front of Scotia Square.

But once the new Cogswell Street is finished at the new, lower grade, the contractor will close part of Barrington Street. Traffic heading into downtown Halifax will split to Lower Water Street or Cogswell Street, meaning buses won’t be able to use the current terminal.

Starting next summer, buses arriving and departing from Barrington Street will move to three new temporary bays: one on Barrington south of Duke Street, one on Granville Street, and one on Albemarle Street.

The changes mean a six-minute delay for buses running through downtown Halifax starting in October and lasting until the end of 2024. According to a report to council earlier this month, the changes are also expected to cost Halifax Transit up to $1.85 million in operating costs, resulting in cascading effects on the whole system:

Transit resources will be required to be temporarily reallocated to accommodate the detours (including the approximate equivalent of five Operators, fuel, maintenance, etc.), resulting in delay in implementing other services changes (i.e., some proposed route changes as part of the Moving Forward Together Plan, reinstatement of some trips removed from service in February 2023).

Halifax Transit will update riders on the route changes over the coming months.

City wants to ‘get in, get out fast’

“This is not without disruption,” Davis said. “It is not without disruption to those who are driving vehicles. It is probably the most disruptive to transit, but I guess we equate it to get in, get out fast, and ripping the Band-Aid off.”

The original plan was to leave a new transit terminal on Barrington Street unfinished until the third phase of the project, in 2025.

“We somewhat naively thought that we could actually do that while the buses are still there, while the people are still there, and it wouldn’t be all that disruptive,” Davis said.

A woman speaks in the shade on a sunny day. There's a construction site behind her.
Davis speaks with reporters near the current transit hub on Barrington Street on Monday. Credit: Zane Woodford

The project team realized it was going to be “really disruptive, and probably quite dangerous for people to be trying to catch the buses.”

The new transit hub, with transit-only lanes and heated bus shelters, will now be complete a year early, by the end of 2024.

The changes also keep the whole project on schedule, and on budget.

Once the contractor finishes the street grid, the municipality can look to start selling off the development blocks it’s created.

‘It can handle a lot of density’

Davis said she expects a report to council in the next few months outlining a plan to sell off those lots, currently planned to eventually add 2,500 people to the area.

A heavily annotated map shows the new road network and development blocks planned for the Cogswell area.
The plan for Cogswell as of 2019. Credit: HRM/WSP

Asked whether the infrastructure could support more people, given the housing shortage and current push on Halifax to allow more density, Davis said it can withstand double, 5,000 people

“The original vision for the development blocks was and still is, until it changes, for this to be an area of high density. It’s a very logical place right on the edge of downtown for high-density housing. It can handle a lot of density,” Davis said.

“And so it was always viewed as an area for tall, dense buildings with mixed-use, hopefully retail at grade, a real mix of commercial and retail but really a brand new neighbourhood where a lot of people live.”

The total floor area could be more than two million square feet, Davis said.

The municipality still needs to create land-use and design regulations for the development blocks. Davis said she hopes that process will look at options to include affordable housing.

“Affordable housing has always been an important issue in Cogswell,” Davis said. “And we’re getting to the point that hopefully through that process, we are going to then be able to present options to council, as well as get direction from council relative to affordable housing.”

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. Pedestrians in the area continue to be significantly inconvenienced. The city’s inability to maintain a pathway along Cogswell between Brunswick and Albemarle (a grassy stretch of 50 m alongside a building where almost no work has been done except removing a tree) means anyone walking to Scotia Square or the waterfront from the north end must take a lengthy and steep detour via Brunswick and Duke. It’s hard to believe pedestrians are being considered in the final project, when so little consideration has been given during construction.

  2. Why is the city plan to “sell off lots” (presumably to the highest bidder?) This will ensure no affordable housing. The city should give some plots to co-ops or see if they can get the prov gov. to build public housing if they give them the land? Needing to profit from everything and making housing and land into investments and serious resource commodities.. has got us where we are — how about thinking on terms of sharing land instead of always thinking about selling and what profit can be derived. . .

  3. Love Donna Davis’ “Cogswell ” Branded Fleece ~sure that was a priority expenditure for her and her large team .Lets hope it is a success on all fronts and doesn’t need to be redone.

  4. “Affordable housing has always been an important issue in Cogswell,” Davis said.

    Everyone knows there will be no affordable housing options in the new Cogswell district yet councillors and bureaucrats regurgitate the same bullshit talking points.

    Council does not want poor people on the peninsula. Simple as that.

  5. I followed the link to the staff report. There I read that although it will be known in advance that bus stops will be relocated and times jiggled the bus schedules will not initially reflect this as transit changes are only made on fixed dates that don’t coincide with the construction schedule. It seems absurd that knowingly posting wrong information and causing confusion in the ridership is the path chosen. Am I reading this report incorrectly? this is probably worth its own story. What about it Zane?

    See page 6 of the report
    . However, as transit schedule changes can only occur on pre-determined quarterly dates, it is expected that there will be a period of time from the implementation of the detours in October 2023, to the date of schedule
    changes in late November 2023, where the detours are not reflected, and system-wide lateness is experienced. It will also be critical that the change to detours planned in May 2024, which includes the removal of the existing Scotia Square Transit Terminal, align with the quarterly May schedule
    change to mitigate this challenge

  6. The Cogswell Development is a bone-headed project and one where HRM has largely ignored the existing needs of people already living in the area, who generally do not own cars. Construction for the Cogswell development has already detrimentally affected pedestrian access from neighbourhoods north of Cogswell to Scotia Square, the waterfront and other shopping locations . I can only imagine what these new plans will do for those of us who walk, cycle and roll from the near north end. Even without the additional density, this neighbourhood lacks affordable food markets, parks with shade where people can sit and other public amenities that support affordable housing, and make the neighbourhood resilient to climate change. In light of climate change and the fact that it will take years to complete this development, one has to ask if it really makes sense to concentrate residential development along a waterfront that will become increasingly prone to storm surges, flooding and climate related damage. Apart from the potential harm to residents and their property, flooding of developed areas results in the leaching of toxic chemicals into our water. Finally, HRM may need some of the land being allocated to developers for expansion of its sewage treatment facilities as a result of climate change, increased population and to comply with new water regulations. Increasing density in HRM may be desirable, but it would be better to add density on higher ground.

  7. There better be a considerable amount of *affordable* housing. My concern is how will *affordable* be defined when we get there in about 5 years. Right now, for many, *affordable* housing is a myth. People can’t afford it now and wages will never be able to catch up with housing costs and never mind being a reasonable amount of income being dedicated to housing.