Downtown Halifax getting new high-speed, net-zero commuter ferry service

HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia government announced Monday a $258-million plan for a new high-speed ferry service that will link Halifax with Bedford, a rapidly growing suburb about 10 kilometres northwest of the port city’s downtown.

The province will contribute $65 million, Ottawa will kick in $155 million and the Halifax Regional Municipality will spend $38 million on the Mill Cove ferry service.

The project calls for the construction of five electric ferries, a new ferry terminal in Bedford, and a new terminal in Halifax to replace the existing waterfront facility.

Nova Scotia Environment Minister Timothy Halman said the net-zero ferries and terminals will not produce air pollution. As well, a new bridge will be built over a CN Rail line in Bedford to provide access to the Mill Cove terminal.

The project is expected to be completed during the 2027-28 fiscal year.

“This project addresses road traffic in the area and helps us plan for future population growth,” Halman said in a statement. “The new ferry route will also encourage people to use public transportation and help us meet our climate change goals.”

The plan has been in the works since 2021 when the three levels of government announced they would spend more than $3 million on a study and design work. At the time, transit officials said they hoped the service would be in operation by this year.

The population of the Halifax region, which includes Bedford, has been rapidly growing since 2015. 

Last year, Statistics Canada reported the growth rate in the metropolitan area around Halifax was second only to that of Moncton, N.B. The federal agency said the Moncton area grew by 5.3 per cent between July 1, 2021, and July 1, 2022, while Nova Scotia’s capital grew by 4.4 per cent — growth rates that were more than twice that of the national average.

“With the growth we are continuing to see, so is the need to make sustainable transportation competitive with personal vehicles,” Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said in a statement.

“Not only will this improved ferry service help people get around faster, it will also promote continuous growth surrounding the terminal and establish a consistent community hub.”

The new ferry service is expected to help ease regular traffic congestion on the Bedford Highway, which runs along the west side of Halifax harbour.

The municipality currently uses a small fleet of diesel-powered ferries to link downtown Halifax with Dartmouth, on the east side of the sprawling harbour. The Dartmouth ferry is the oldest saltwater ferry service in North America, having started operations in 1752.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2024.