Could be years before traffic volumes return to pre-pandemic levels, says Halifax Harbour Bridges

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Halifax Harbour Bridges (HBB) says bridge traffic plummeted in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Steve Snider, CEO and General Manager of Halifax Harbour Bridges, said in a statement ion Monday that COVID-19 and numerous lockdowns brought on waves of decreasing traffic.

“If traffic is a barometer of what is happening in the economy, … our bridge counts can be instructive in judging the impact of travel bans, the closures of non-essential services, quarantines, and work from home initiatives,” he said in a release.

Halifax Harbour Bridges (HHB) says almost 100 per cent of its revenue comes from tolls and bridge fees, so the traffic volume is something they keep a close eye on.

Read more: Canadians driving less as gas prices remain high, study shows

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On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the global COVID-19 pandemic; Halifax Harbour Bridges said they immediately saw a 55 per cent drop in traffic compared to 2019. In total for its 2021 fiscal year, the HBB said there was a 22 per cent decrease over 2019 levels — a drop of 7.4 million crossings.

The charts below, provided by HHB, shows the change in traffic volumes in 2020 and 2021 on the MacKay and Macdonald bridges.

Could be years before traffic volumes return to pre-pandemic levels, says Halifax Harbour Bridges - image
Halifax Harbour Bridges

In late 2021, lockdowns ended in Nova Scotia and the province opened itself to visitors. The number of bridge crossings then jumped back up to 95 per cent of what they used to be pre-pandemic.

However, the new Omicron variant and a new round of restrictions in December and January brought another plummet in usage.

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“We went from 10-15 days with 100,000 crossings a day in October, November, and early December to zero days in January,” Snider said in the release.

“In January we had less than 80,000 daily crossings for the first half of the month, and that’s not a lot.”

In February, numbers grew to 81 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, “with total crossings topping just over 2 million.”

Read more: Gas prices in N.S. jump by more than 6 cents, diesel skyrockets again

As of mid-March, Halifax bridges are at around 76 per cent of pre-pandemic traffic levels. Snider said it could be years before numbers fully recover.

“I remember after Hurricane Katrina there was a spike in gas prices and bridge traffic fell rather dramatically for a few months,” he said, noting how high gas prices could now also impact traffic volumes.

“I have no idea if history will repeat itself in that vein, but it’s a possibility if prices remain high for a sustained period of time.”

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