Transportation in the Halifax Regional Municipality

Transportation in the Halifax Regional Municipality

The Halifax Regional Municipality is a major multi-modal transportation centre for freight and passengers.


Halifax Stanfield International Airport, which serves HRM and virtually all of peninsular Nova Scotia, is located in the northern part of the municipality near the border with Hants County in Enfield.

CFB Shearwater, an air force base operated by the Canadian Forces, is located on the eastern side of Halifax Harbour; its runways are presently being decommissioned as the base converts into a heliport.

There are also 5 separate heliports located in the HRM urban core, several for hospitals. Several privately run aerodromes are also located in rural areas.


The Halifax Port Authority manages many of the commercial port operations on Halifax Harbour, including bulk cargo, general cargo and intermodal container terminals. The Canadian Navy and Canadian Coast Guard also have extensive waterfront facilities.

The second largest port facility in HRM is located at Sheet Harbour. The port of Sheet Harbour operates as a local port and is primarily used to ship forest products from the Musquodoboit Valley and the industrial Pictou County area during the winter months (when Pictou harbour is ice-bound). []


HRM is the eastern terminus of the Canadian National Railway (CN), which provides direct freight service to Montreal, Toronto, and Chicago for cargo arriving at either of the Port of Halifax's two container terminals, or the port's general cargo and specialized cargo piers. CN operates rail lines around both the east and west sides of the harbour, serving Halifax and Dartmouth respectively.

The Windsor and Hantsport Railway is a short line railway which operates a former Canadian Pacific Railway line in HRM from its interchange point with CN at Windsor Junction through to the agricultural heartland of Nova Scotia at New Minas in the Annapolis Valley.

VIA Rail Canada also operates the "Ocean", a passenger train to Truro, Moncton, and Montreal six days a week.

Two important branch rail lines operated by CN were abandoned in the Halifax Regional Municipality in recent decades. One line ran along the Eastern Shore from Dartmouth to Musquodoboit Harbour and up the Musquodoboit Valley, serving the agriculture and forestry industries. The other line ran along the South Shore from Halifax to Bridgewater and on to Yarmouth. The rail corridors of both routes are still intact and preserved pending the reintroduction of rail service.


The urban core is divided by Halifax Harbour and is linked by two suspension bridges: the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge, since 1955, and the A. Murray MacKay Bridge, since 1970. Residents refer to these as the Old (or South) Bridge and New (or North) Bridge, respectively.

Traffic is problematic in many older parts of the urban core area due to geographic constrictions and an aging road network designed for less vehicle capacity than is currently being handled. The Halifax Peninsula, similar to an island, has several bottleneck points through which any traffic leaving the area must pass:
* the Macdonald Bridge
* the Mackay Bridge
* the Armdale traffic circle
* the Fairview interchange to the Highway 102 freeway
* the Bedford Highway (Trunk 2)

Vehicle traffic density is increasing somewhat on the peninsula, but the population of workers living in suburban areas or commuting from more distant exurban/outskirts has increased at a much higher rate in recent decades. Roads in existing developed suburban areas and the historic districts on the Halifax Peninsula cannot be easily expanded.

A proposed bridge across the Northwest Arm to relieve traffic congestion on the Armdale Rotary (it would connect at South Street near Dalhousie University) has been rejected several times by residents of the affluent South End, as well as environmentalists advocating improved rapid transit and better planning to densify residential development close to locations of employment. However, an advanced convergence indexing road traffic monitoring system was installed on the peninsula in June 2008.

Several controversial road widening projects are being debated, including making Chebucto Road three lanes (one reversible), as well as widening Robie Street, the major north-south artery on the peninsula.

Many of the newer neighbourhoods include a network of expressways (Nova Scotia 100-series highways) which were designed for modern automobile traffic and were developed during the 1960s-1980s (Highways 101, 102, 103, 107, 111, and 118) however these roads serve mainly to dump high-speed traffic onto the existing urban low-speed street network.

The many of the roads in the rural areas of the municipality are two laned provincial collector and trunk highways the longest being Trunk 7 which runs from Bedford to the Guysborough County line at Ecum Secum. Trunk 7 continues on to Highway 104 at Antigonish .


Urban Core

The HRM urban core is served by Metro Transit. The main forms of public transportation are standard transit buses and a new bus-rapid transit system, as well as harbour ferries.

The ferry system uses three vessels, and connects peninsular Halifax with Dartmouth, offering daily services. It is the oldest continuously-operating saltwater ferry service in North America. Controversial high-speed ferries are under consideration for connecting downtown Halifax with Shannon Park, Bedford, the South Mainland, and Eastern Passage.

The proposed high speed ferry services are viewed with concern by other harbour users and are viewed as a compromise solution for connecting travellers from points along the harbour with downtown Halifax and Dartmouth. Transit surveys have indicated that many existing and potential future users of public transit require service to areas such as universities, hospitals and shopping centres, many of which are located near or adjacent to railway corridors in the region. The current mayor, Peter Kelly, and several regional councillors have favoured instituting a commuter rail or a light rail system on current and abandoned railway lines and several streets in the urban core, however such a proposal would require provincial and federal funding and agreement with railway companies. It has been shelved by HRM staff and politicians, pending the provincial government's creation of a regional transportation planning authority, similar to what eastern Massachusetts did in the 1960s when MBTA was created.

Rural Areas

A community transit bus service is also run by Metro Transit, serving the exurban communities of Beaver Bank, Fall River, East Preston, Lake Echo, Porters Lake and Grand Desert. However, there is little to no public transit available for residents in more rural areas especially for the Eastern Shore, South Shore and Musquodoboit Valley area of the municipality; this has become a growing bone of contention driving the urban-rural tension within the region.

The rural area are dependent upon privately operated bus and shuttle services, as well as individual car pooling. The municipality plans to extend its community bus program along the Eastern Shore and Musquodoboit Valley which will see buses operate from Dartmouth to Sheet Harbour to Upper Musquodoboit to Enfield and return to Dartmouth, however there is no timeline for its implementation and the proposal is currently being studied and surveyed [] .

Halifax Regional Municipality is currently studying the possibility of implementing a series of expanded bus rapid transit services along expressways such as Highways 102, 103 and 107. A Rural Express Bus is expected to begin servicing Upper Tantallon, Nova Scotia in late 2008.


Halifax Regional Council has stated an interest in improving bicycle transport in the urban core, however since the 2000 municipal election little has been accomplished. A part-time coordinating position was created to oversee the planning and implementation of a bicycle transport plan but this position was eliminated during budget cuts in 2003 with little other than planning/reporting having been accomplished. Overall, HRM remains fairly difficult for bicycles, partially as a result of geography and climate, but also the increased traffic congestion. Despite these setbacks there has been a small increase in the number of bicycle lanes and designated bike routes in the urban core.


There are many parks and some disconnected trails in the HRM urban core. There are proposals for a Halifax Urban Greenway, which is envisioned to ultimately connect or construct trails around the entire perimeter of Halifax Harbour and the Bedford Basin to link downtown Halifax and Dartmouth, however these plans have yet to be enacted. Most streets in the urban core have sidewalks and pedestrian crossings for major roads are signalized. As a cost-cutting measure, property owners on the Halifax Peninsula are required to shovel snow from any adjoining sidewalk during the winter months, with improper enforcement by HRM sometimes leading to poor walking conditions.


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