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. Cars. Busses. Roads. Bicycles. People; and Bridges.
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 Commission.
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 Finance.
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 paidfor, but you had to refinance to pay for the regular maintenance, improvements or upgrades.
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 transportation.
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 bridges. We have seen over 30 per cent increase in traffic on the bridges in the last 25 years.
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 Halifax.
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 infrastructure.
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 solutions.
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 system.
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 peninsula.
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: Cars. Busses. Roads. Bicycles. People; And Bridges.