'The worst year by far:' Halifax construction season's effect on commuters, bus drivers, cyclists
As commutes in HRM get longer, Metro takes a look at the effect on road users, and when it will all be over.
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Commutes of more than an hour have become more common for drivers in Halifax this fall, and the municipality knows it’s been no cakewalk, but says it’ll all be over soon.
“The majority of the congestion would definitely at this point be the St. Margaret’s Bay Road project in coordination with the Halifax Water projects,” Halifax Regional Municipality spokesperson Nick Ritcey said in an interview.
Ritcey said there were more than 200 capital projects this year, and another 200 operational and repair projects wrapping up in early November.
In the case of St. Margaret’s Bay Road, Ritcey said there was a delay of a few weeks because of “unforeseen underground water infrastructure” – pipes that weren’t mapped – but the work will be complete by the end of the month.
He called it a “full meal deal road construction project,” with new sidewalks, paving, water main, storm sewer, and gutters.
“It’s unfortunate that there’s some extra congestion and traffic, but it’s definitely going to pay off in the long run with really great new roads and infrastructure, and the fact that we don’t have to spend the money doing it twice,” Ritcey said.
“We just ask that people are patient for the next couple weeks while they wrap up, but then people will be able to enjoy the nice new roads, and not hit any potholes.”
Metro knows the commute has been hell on wheels for drivers, so we asked a few other road users about their experience this construction season:
‘Worst year by far’ for bus drivers
Construction season has been rough on Halifax Transit drivers this year, according to their union head.
“It’s a topic of concern for us,” Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508 president Ken Wilson said in an interview. “This is the worst year by far.”
Wilson said the combination of construction shutting down St. Margaret’s Bay Road and the ongoing Big Lift project on the Macdonald Bridge, along with construction on “every other street” has made getting a bus around the municipality more difficult than in years past.
“I would think any type of construction project on a major artery way that starts in June at least should be able to be open by peak time traffic at the start of the year,” Wilson said of the St. Margaret’s Bay Road construction.
“I think that was a colossal mistake, whoever agreed to do the Bay Road the way they did it.”
The big delays, along with what Wilson calls “stagnant” ridership numbers, show the need for transit priority lanes or high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, in the municipality.
“HOV lanes on the Bedford Highway, Bayers Road would alleviate a lot of this lateness for operators,” Wilson said.
“If we can’t compete with the car, we’re gonna fail.”
When traffic snarls, cyclists roll on by
Despite some difficulty with construction season, the director of a local cycling advocacy group says long traffic delays have more people opting to commute on two wheels.
“We’ve seen a lot of people take up riding a bike during the construction phase because it’s just so much quicker to be able to get to work or get to where you want to go on a bike than it has been sitting in a car for hours,” Kelsey Lane, executive director of the Halifax Cycling Coalition, said in an interview.
“It’s actually been a really nice alternative in some ways, even though there are challenges with the pavement and the rough treatment of the intersections during construction, and a little bit of a disregard for bike lanes and bike traffic during this time.”
Lane said bike lanes were often “forgotten about,” or left unpainted this summer, pushing cyclists into the roadway and creating confusion for motorists. One example she cited is when the Hollis Street bike lane was cut off in front of the Maple construction project.
“Certainly when the lane narrows, there’s more confusion around where a cyclist is supposed to be on a street that’s experiencing construction,” she said.
“It has been difficult.”