Nova Scotia·In Depth

Macdonald bridge's Big Lift project in Halifax explained

The start of the Big Lift for Halifax's Angus L. Macdonald Bridge is just around the corner. The first whisper of public impact starts on Monday, with changes to Halifax Transit schedules.

Budget for project is $150M, paid for by bridge tolls

The cycling and pedestrian lanes on the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge will be removed in 2015, but will reopen in December 2016. (Jennifer Henderson/CBC)

The start of the Big Lift for Halifax's Angus L. Macdonald Bridge is just around the corner.

The first whisper of public impact starts on Monday, with changes to Halifax Transit schedules. Night time roadway closures start in a week — on March 1 — Sunday to Thursday.

Why a Big Lift? 

The Angus L. Macdonald Bridge has been carrying people and traffic over Halifax Harbour since April 2, 1955.

The Big Lift will replace parts that have worn down over 60 years of service. When the project is complete, the bridge will last "generations," according to Halifax Harbour Bridges spokesperson Alison MacDonald.

Who will feel the first effects of the Big Lift?

Halifax Transit riders who cross the bridge at night will be the first ones to notice a change. Beginning Monday, they'll have to take a shuttle to cross after 6:40 p.m., Sunday to Thursday. The transfer points are the Scotia Square terminal in Halifax and the bridge terminal in Dartmouth. 

The Macdonald bridge shuttle trip takes 12 minutes. The MacKay bridge shuttle takes 35 minutes to cross the harbour.

Tiffany Chase, a spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Municipality, said the Macdonald Bridge may open sporadically on some nights. If that happens, the shuttle will take the shorter, 12-minute route. 

When do closures begin?

The Macdonald bridge will be closed at night, five nights a week, starting March 1.

Work starts nightly at 7:00 p.m. and ends at 5:30 a.m., Sunday to Thursday. On weekends, the bridge will open as usual.

The bike path and sidewalk will stay open 24 hours a day until late June. Then those paths will be removed, and walkers and cyclists will have to take a shuttle, too, until December 2016.

How will the pedestrian/cyclist shuttle work?

Halifax Harbour Bridges has purchased three, 17-person vans with trailers for bikes.

Beginning in late June, the shuttles will leave from the old NSLC location off Wyse Road on the Dartmouth side. The Halifax departure and dropoff point is still up for discussion, but may be near the Halifax Water treatment facility on Upper Water Street.

Alison MacDonald says the vans need space to turn around and for passengers to load and unload their bikes safely. She says the waiting areas will have lighting and a shelter like a mini bus terminal. 

What's the first stage of the project?

The first stage is to reinforce the bridge to prepare for the decking replacement.

Beginning March 1, crews will start strengthening the bridge's stiffening truss. That's the fence of steel beams in triangle shapes that runs on both sides of the roadway.

They'll also install hand rails for workers, and a system to carry construction materials along the underside of the bridge. 

When does the actual lifting start?

In late August, workers will start swapping out the 46 sections of bridge decking across the span of the bridge.

The first lifts will happen by day over the weekend, so the crews can develop their skills in daylight. This will result in two or three daytime bridge closures on weekends.

Once workers have the routine down pat, each lift will happen overnight, so the bridge can reopen for rush hour the next morning.

The lifts are scheduled over a year, to allow breaks for bad weather. 

Recreational boaters in the harbour will have to avoid the Dartmouth side of the channel at night when the lifts begin in August and September. The centre of channel will be rerouted with buoys when those sections are replaced, but that's between November and March when recreational boating is at a low ebb. 

What else needs to be done?

Alison MacDonald says other tasks include replacing the floor beams beneath the decking, replacing the hanger cables that support the roadway and dehumidifying the two huge main cables.

The whole Big Lift project should be complete by September 2017. 

Will the ​Macdonald Bridge look different when it's done?

The profile of the bridge will change.

Ships passing up the narrows will have 2.1 metres more clearance at the centre of the span. And the stiffening truss that looks like a fence beside the roadway right now will be moved underneath the bridge.

Alison MacDonald says it will make the driving experience feel more like the MacKay bridge does now.

The bridge will stick with its current green and orange colour scheme. MacDonald says that's standard colouration for bridges in Canada. 

How much will this all cost?

The budget for the Big Lift is $150 million, paid for entirely by bridge tolls. The province of Nova Scotia fronted the money and the loan will be paid off in 20 years.


Jack Julian


Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian


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