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Steve Snider, General Manager and CEO

Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission

Chamber of Halifax luncheon
Casino Nova Scotia, The Compass Room
Tuesday, February 24th

Check Against Delivery

Thank you very much John for the kind introduction, and my sincere thank you to

the Halifax Chamber of Commerce for the opportunity to speak today.

I want to take the opportunity to talk to you about a few different things.





People; and


I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we’d admit that we have a problem on our

hands. We have a collective dependence. And that dependence - in this province,

this country and all across this continent - is on the automobile.

Too many of us would sooner drive than walk. We’d rather fire-up our car, than

take the bus.

We’d rather navigate potholes or be stuck in traffic, than sit back and read a book

on the bus.

We have a problem.

We can’t come to grips with our dependence on cars.

And we continue to refuse, as a society, to take the steps that will change the

behaviour that led us to this dependence in the first place.

Now I appreciate how you might look at this.

I’m a guy whose job might be viewed as nothing more than to - efficiently and

safely - operate two elevated roadways across the Halifax Harbour. So, you may

wonder what sustainable transportation means to the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge


Well, sustainable transportation means meeting the mobility needs of the present

without compromising the needs of future generations.

It also means making use of technologies that help people make changes to the way

they travel that are better for the environment.

During the next few minutes, I will paint a picture for you of what we can do – and

what I believe we have to do – if we want to have a sustainable transportation

system that works for this city, this region and this province.

We operate and maintain two very critical pieces of infrastructure that span Halifax

Harbour. As a commission of the Provincial Government, we report to the Minister of


We very much value Minister Baker’s support on the needs assessment and our

thoughts and best wishes go out to him and his family at this time.

Essentially we’re the people who ensure you get across the harbour safe and sound.

When we first opened the Macdonald Bridge in 1955, our focus was mainly tolling,

plowing and salting. But running a bridge today is much different than in 1955.

For one thing we now have two bridges across the harbour. For another, we have

over 32 million crossings a year compared to about three million in our first full year

of operation.

We’ve changed a lot in the last 54 years. We’ve gone from tokens to transponders,

from hand-painted signs to electronic message boards and from weathervanes to

weather stations.

And I’m sure a few of you have experienced the least-liked of our new technologies

– infrared speed enforcement.

It is this progress and the use of leading-edge technology that prompts one of my

colleagues to say: “These are two of the safest miles of highway in the province.”

There is nothing our employees take more seriously and personally than the safety

of bridge users.

And we are very focused on our users, because they – you - pay the bills.

We are a commission of the provincial government, and our financial results are

consolidated with the province. We pay for our operations, maintenance, capital

costs and debt repayment with money generated from tolls.

Unlike some other provincial commissions, we don’t receive - or return - any monies

to or from the government.

When it comes to money, one question we are frequently asked is, “When will the

bridges be paid-off?”

Well, I am pleased to report that the cost of building the Macdonald and MacKay

bridges has been fully paid off.

To explain why we still have a debt we liken it to renovating a house.

Many of you will have decided over time to replace your kitchen or bathroom. Or

maybe you needed a new roof, deck or paint job. The house may have been paid-

for, but you had to refinance to pay for the regular maintenance, improvements or


So the fact that today we owe $57 million (in Canadian dollars) needs to be put in

that same context. Over the last ten years we have spent nearly double that

amount on maintenance and capital projects on the two bridges.

Despite the needed improvements, upgrades and repairs, the Commission has not

had a toll increase since 1992. Part of the reason we have been able to achieve this

is through consistent, steady repayment of our debt and improved interest rates.

In 1990, we paid $11 million in interest on our debt. In 2008, we brought that

down to $3 million.

Though all of this is very interesting and exciting (at least to a toll guy like me) let’s

get to what I told you at the outset that I’m really interested in - sustainable


The Cross Harbour Traffic Needs Assessment is crucial to understanding where we

are today, since it points to our growing congestion.

Speaking of congestion, sometimes life at the Commission feels a little like a

cartoon – where the Road Runner was always being chased by Wylie Coyote. Except

in our case Wylie Coyote is growing traffic - it’s always chasing us and we are

constantly looking for ways to stay ahead of it.

When I joined the Commission in 1994 congestion was building. We improved the

situation with the introduction of MACPASS, and with the addition of the third lane

on the Macdonald Bridge.

Speaking of MACPASS, if you replenish your MACPASS account using a credit card,

you will soon be able to use MACPASS to park at the new Stanfield International

Airport Parkade.

This is an added service for MACPASS customers in addition to the current

convenience of being able to use your transponder at the Cobequid Pass, Saint John

Harbour Bridge and the Confederation Bridge.

We intend for this to be the first of many opportunities for expanded use of

MACPASS within the region as we continue to grow.

And while many of us rely on this growth for economic success; it also leads to

increased congestion.

In the 50s, 60s and 70s, the solution to congestion was to “build your way out”.

Today, we recognize that this is not sustainable.

Since the seven lanes on the two bridges represent 55 per cent of the roadway

capacity to the peninsula, we wanted to understand the full dimensions of the

congestion problem.

In 2005 we conducted a traffic capacity study which revealed that we have pretty

much squeezed all of the additional capacity out of the bridges. There are no further

improvements we can make that will provide any notable congestion relief on the


We have seen over 30 per cent increase in traffic on the bridges in the last 25


Folks, essentially we are now operating at capacity.

Under these conditions, even a minor incident on the bridges can cause traffic to

back up very, very quickly.

We have a very important decision to make.

Do we build our way out of it – or do we seek sustainable solutions?

Do we need or want another crossing or do we stop our dependence on the car?

In addition to operating and maintaining the bridges, our mandate is also to

investigate whether or not future cross-harbour capacity is required.

In 2006 the city asked us to embark on a study and Delphi MRC was hired.

Last March we released the Cross Harbour Traffic Needs Assessment.

The study found that if nothing changes and we continue to grow, we will need a

third harbour crossing between 2016 and 2026.

The report recommended two options – a bridge or a tunnel.

The report also determined that if we need a third crossing, the best location would

be at the end of Highway 111 in Dartmouth, coming over to the south-end of


And it would cost between 1.1 and 1.4 billion dollars.

There is one point that I want to be very clear about. I am not here to make the

case to build another crossing.

Let me just repeat that. I am not here today to make the case to build a third

harbour crossing.

And by the way, it’s not our decision to make. The decision to proceed with a third

crossing rests with the elected officials within the government.

If there is one thing I have taken from the needs assessment it is this: we as a

community need to act in a big and bold manner to bring about change to our

transportation system.

If we don’t make changes we will face gridlock or the need to build very expensive


After the release of the Cross Harbour Traffic Needs Assessment we embarked on a

series of meetings with various groups, including business and opinion leaders, to

share the results of the report and talk solutions.

We also felt it was important to share the information with the general public so we

held five community sessions last Fall.

We listened and here is what we heard:

• The community does not want to see a third harbour crossing until all other

options are investigated and evaluated.

• Public Transit needs to be more convenient to change the way people travel.

• The public want increased funding for Metro transit, and

• People were receptive to road pricing.

Ultimately, a third harbour crossing can only be delayed – for several years, or

indefinitely – if we have a major societal change.

We have to reduce the demand on transportation infrastructure like the harbour

bridges and our city streets.

In the industry, this is what we call transportation demand management or TDM.

It’s not unlike turning off the lights when you leave a room to conserve energy or

turning off the tap while you brush your teeth to reduce water consumption.

If we are to effectively manage our transportation infrastructure we must consider

managing the entire system like a utility.

The right direction will involve multiple solutions and players.

Because it’s not just one solution that will make the difference – it’s the combination

of various shifts in behaviour that will help.

HRM is working on a number of TDM strategies to reduce congestion.

Their efforts include:

• ride-matching programs

• parking strategies

• workplace commuter options

• encouraging active transportation through cycling and walking; and,

• making major improvements to the transit system.

We are not the only city in Canada, North America or the world for that matter

dealing with significant transportation issues.

The Bridge Commission is an active participant in a world-wide organization called

the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association or IBTTA. The members

are toll operators from around the world who work together on transportation


As the incoming president of this organization, and the chair of an upcoming

conference on sustainability in transportation, I have come to believe that we are in

a great position in HRM.

We have the opportunity – now – to create a truly sustainable transportation


One that has the potential to serve the needs of all our citizens, and to be the envy

of cities across the country, and across the globe.

In order to do this I believe that we have to consider, in conjunction with other TDM

initiatives, adopting various forms of road pricing.

The bridge toll you pay now is actually one form of road pricing.

There are various ways road pricing can work, depending on the scenario and the

desired outcomes.

Essentially, it boils down to this. We can adopt pricing to deal with:

• the number of people in the vehicle,

• the time of day when you use a bridge or toll facility,

• the distance you travel,

• or the specific area in which you are travelling, such as onto or off of the


The Bridge Commission is seriously considering how all these options might be of

use to us here in HRM.

In the coming months we are issuing a request for submissions to conduct a study

on the impact peak-period tolling and one-way tolling might have on reducing

congestion at the bridges.

Some other options that could help, while beyond our mandate, are worthy of full

consideration. Cordon tolling and area wide tolling, for instance, could make a big

difference in reducing congestion.

But for any of these strategies to be effective, or have even a hope of changing

behaviour, the starting point will be all levels of government working together.

It is my hope that people will come to realize is that if we don’t consider options like

this and make tough and bold decisions we will be confronting the reality of building

another harbour crossing or sitting in gridlock.

We do need to reduce the number of vehicles on our roads and bridges.

We need to reduce our carbon footprint and improve our environment.

If we don’t do these things, future generations may not have a sustainable

transportation system.

There is a cost to doing nothing, and it grows bigger every day.

So folks, we’ve got to deal with the:






And Bridges.

Thank you.