Questions and answers about the toll increase

 

On October 4, 2021, the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (NSUARB) approved an application by Haifax Harbour Bridges for its first toll hike in a decade. As a result of the decision, the fee for passenger vehicles crossing the bridges will increase to $1.25, up from $1.  Motorists who use MacPasses will see the crossing fee increase to $1 from .80 cents. Commercial vehicles face a 25 per cent increase per axle. The increases are effective January 3, 2022.

The details of the toll increase decision can be found here.

The decision has prompted questions about the toll increase. Here are our best answers. If you have further questions, we invite you to ask them by emailing bridges@hdbc.ns.ca and we can add them to the list.

Why the toll is being increased and why it is necessary now?

The bridges and other infrastructure is getting older and more than $280 million needs to be invested in the next 10 years to ensure they remain safe. While HHB reports to the provincial Minister of  Public Works, it is a self-funded organization and does not receive funding from any government level.

What needs to be done on the Macdonald Bridge? The Big Lift just finished.

The Big Lift replaced the suspended spans of the bridge. The remaining work for the Macdonald Bridge includes rehabilitating elements that were not replaced as part of the Big Lift: concrete repairs, steel and paint repairs and the replacement of approach span bearings. Once complete (after 2026) The Macdonald Bridge will require minimum maintenance for at least 30 years.

When was the last toll increase?

The last toll increase application was in 2011 when cash went from $.75 to a $1. Macpass went from $.60 to $.70 in 2011 and $.70 to $.80 in 2012. Before that time the last increase was in 1992.

What is annual revenue for HHB?

In 2019/20 the toll revenue was $31.5 million. Because of the impact the pandemic has had on traffic, the toll revenue for 2020/21 is forecasted to be $25.5 million.

How much more revenue will this increase provide?

The increase will add approximately $5 million to the annual toll revenue based on anticipated traffic recovery for 2022.

Who approved the toll increases?

The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (NSUARB)  sets the rates, tolls and charges to be paid for use of the two bridges operated by the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission. In its decision is the NSURB found “that the projects included in the HDBC’s 2021-2031 capital plan are necessary and appropriate to maintain the Bridges and ancillary structures to ensure they are in good operating condition.”

When does the increase come into effect?

January 3, 2022.

 Where does the money from tolls go?

All revenue generated from tolls is used to maintain and operate the two bridges.

The following is how HHB used the revenue from tolls during the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2020:

  • Maintenance costs: 8% (4.3 million)
  • Working capital costs (payment of bills related to the Big Lift): 17% (8.6 million)
  • Administration: 6% (2.8 million)
  • Operations: 9% (4.3 million)
  • Debt reduction: 27% (13.6 million)
  • Interest expense: 9% (4.6 million)
  • Capital investment: 24% (11.9 million)

What the relationship is between HHB and the Government of Nova Scotia?

The Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission was formed in 1950 by the Nova Scotia government to construct, operate and maintain structures that span the Halifax harbour or the Northwest Arm. We report to the Minister of Public Works.

Why is the toll increasing by 25% instead of a different amount? How was the amount determined?

The 25% increment is necessary, in part, because the toll equipment is able to accept quarters, and one-dollar and two-dollar coins, but does not accept nickels or dimes. While this is a practical consideration in determining the cash toll increase increment, the primary reason for the proposed toll increase is the 10-year capital, rehabilitation and maintenance plan to maintain and extend the life of the bridges.

Has the building of the bridges been fully paid off?

The bridges as they were built are paid for. Over the years we have had to borrow money to pay for large capital projects including adding the third lane to the Macdonald Bridge in 1999. In 2019/20 HHB invested almost $12 million in capital projects from general revenue. The only debt that currently exists is $151 million HHB borrowed from the province of Nova Scotia to finance the suspended spans redecking project, also known as the Big Lift.

Is the increased toll due to the lack of traffic on the bridge caused by COVID-19?

The pandemic has impacted traffic on the bridges but is not the reason why HHB needs a toll increase. The toll increase is needed to complete a 10-year capital plan on both bridges, expected to cost more than $280 million. By September 2021, traffic volume had returned to 94.5 per cent of pre-Covid levels.

How will the replacement of the MacKay bridge impact traffic during construction?

There are ongoing discussions about the rehabilitation or replacement of the MacKay Bridge. No decisions have been made. If the decision is made to build a replacement bridge, it will be built next to the MacKay while it remains operational. Therefore, the impact to traffic would be minimal. HHB has a feasibility study that indicates that the MacKay Bridge will need to be rebuilt or replaced by 2040. The study looks at many options and the recommended option is to replace it.

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