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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”