Wednesday, March 6, 2024

New Ferry Service for Halifax

 The three levels of government (municipal, provincial and federal) have come together to fund a major expansion of the Halifax harbour ferry service. The current five boat service operates from one terminal in downtown Halifax to two terminals on the Dartmouth side of the harbour - one at Alderney Landing and one at Woodside.

The new service will operate from Mill Cove in Bedford to the Halifax terminal. Five new electric ferries will operate that service, which will also involve a new dock and multi-use terminal building in Bedford. A bridge over the CN Rail line in Bedfrod is also included to allow access for buses, bicycles, and pedestrians. The Halifax terminal will be replaced with a new building and a new jetty will be added for the new boats. The new boats will be an entirely new design and will not be interchangeable with the current fleet. I have found no details on them, but they appear to be catamarans and are rumoured to be inspired by the Vancouver Sea Bus ferries (although those are double enders).

Funding from the federal government is to be $155.7 mn, the Province $65 mn and the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) more than $38 mn. Work is expected to be completed during the 2027-2028 fiscal year.

There has been talk of a fast ferry service from Bedford to downtown Halifax for many years. The recent huge growth in population, thanks in large part to the National Shipbuilding Strategy and all the spin-offs, has stressed many of the HRM's infrastructure - transportation not least among them. Major residential growth in the general area of Clayton Park West and Bedford through Hammonds Plains and beyond has been the greatest stressor on roads and transit, and will contunue to be the main area for new residential devlopment.

I do have certain reservations about the proposal, although it seems to be essentially sensible.

1. The COVID-related shift to work-from-home hit the downtown office buildings and most have high vacancy rates even now.  I therefore wonder if the ridership numbers justify such a large system, However I am willing to acknowledge an "if you build it they will come" possibility. That was certainly the case with the previous transit system if you go far enough back in history. (Development of the west end of Halifax was spurred when a street car line was built to the Simpson's store.)

2. The new ferries will transit the Narrows to reach downtown, resulting in potential conflict with big ship traffic. Aside from the obvious safety issue, it will also result in slowing down, for the ferries which will have to give way to the larger ships. Schedule keeping may be an issue if 10 knot speeds are needed for significant portions of the route.

The boats are expected to run on a 15 minute intervals, at least at peak times, with an 18 minute transit time. That certainly suggests some high speed running in the open waters of the Bedford Basin.

3. En route to downtown the new ferries will pass the Halifax Shipyard and HMC Dockyard - both major employers. It seems to me that a stop at a point between those two facilities would make sense, but there has been no mention of that in the HRM's publicity material.

4. Naming the boats will, as usual, be controversial. Since it is highly likely they will be named after persons (usually deceased) I suggest some prominent Bedford residents, (with Wikipedia links): Andrew R. Cobb,  a noted architect [ironically he died in a car / bus accident], Arthur Lismer, artist, member of the Group of Seven [narrowly missed dying in the Halifax Explosion when he did not take his usual train from his home in Bedford to Halifax, where he was president of the Victoria College of Art, now NSCADU]. He was a war artist during World War I and painted many harbour scenes, several of which can be seen on line, e.g. this CBCpost from November 11, 2023

That leaves three more possibilities, which I will leave for now.

Aside for cost over runs (virtually guaranteed) and schedule shifts (ditto), the project is a very exciting one and will be interesting to watch as its various aspects come to fruition.


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