The Cogswell Interchange: Forty Years Later

April 28, 2011

Prepared by Jen Powley, EAC’s Our HRM Coordinator

Jen Powley, centre, at the Cogswell Interchange Demo on Earth Day
Jen Powley, centre, at the Cogswell Interchange Demo on Earth Day

The kickoff picnic marking the 40th birthday of the Ecology Action Centre was held at a strip of green space adjacent to the on-ramp of the Cogswell Interchange. The spot was chosen because the EAC had been intimately involved with halting the construction of Harbour Drive, a highway that was to run along Halifax’s waterfront and, in the process, destroy much of what makes downtown Halifax unique and people-friendly including many heritage buildings. In the 2010 update to the monumental history Halifax Warden of the North, Stephen Kimber writes:

By 1970, the preservationists had been so successful in changing public opinion that the city hall had not only scrapped the Harbour Drive project -- bequeathing just a strangely orphaned massive concrete from-nowhere-to-nowhere downtown interchange to posterity -- but it had also issued a continent-wide call for proposals to bring a collection of seven abandoned waterfront warehouses back to commercial life.

In April 2011, the Cogswell Interchange is a monument to the failed project that was started but never completed. In 2001 Kate Carmichael, then Executive Director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, raised the issue of what to do with the Cogswell Interchange. She proposed demolishing the interchange and returning the intersection to grade.

Seven years later, HRM finally began discussions to remove the Interchange. In February 2009, Council approved moving forward with planning and design work to support the redevelopment of the Cogswell Interchange as part of the HRMbyDesign vision for downtown Halifax.

As of EAC's birthday picnic, HRM was nearly ready to issue a Request for Proposals for the redevelopment of the Cogswell site. On April 21, 2011, the day before the Earth Day picnic, Andy Fillmore, HRM’s Manager of Urban Design, stated that the Request for Proposals is “95 per cent written”. Fillmore stresses the importance of reconnecting the North End of Halifax with the downtown core and reconnecting the Citadel and the Commons with the waterfront. The Cogswell Interchange created divisions between these sections of the city. 

As for when the Interchange will actually be ripped out, Fillmore offers four scenarios that might trigger its demolition:

  • The servicing and repair costs for the interchange outweigh the cost of redevelopment. Fillmore thinks this is the most likely scenario. The interchange is already showing its age and costly retrofits aren’t hard to imagine. Bandaid repairs are already being undertaken.
  • A major structural problem with the interchange requires its immediate removal.
  • A major cash influx from a developer who has land at the interchange and requires something to be done immediately. There is no point in developing at the current grade if that grade will change.
  • A major cash influx from the public sector. There have been calls for a new Metro Centre or a new auditorium or a transit hub. If governments at all three levels are ready to put money towards a project, the conversion of the interchange will happen more quickly.

The impact the Cogswell Interchange has had on dividing Gottingen Street, once the central shopping district of Halifax, from the rest of the city will still take decades to overcome. Hopes for redevelopment of the Cogswell site to revitalize and reinvigorate Halifax are high. Haligonians recognize the importance of getting this development right.

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