Adapting to vulnerabilities in the transportation system's critical infrastructure: drawing lessons for risk governance from the redecking of the Macdonald Suspension Bridge in Halifax

Project: Research

Project Details


Beginning in August 2015, Halifax Harbour Bridges (HHB) will undertake an 18-month, $150-million project to re-deck the suspended spans of the Macdonald Bridge. It is the second time in history the suspended spans of a bridge have been replaced at night and in use during the day. The impact will be significant---up to 48,000 vehicles, 700 cyclists and 750 pedestrians cross the Bridge every day---yet the consequences of disruption to the Macdonald Bridge have never been studied.

What constitutes 'critical infrastructure' (CI) and how we manage it are deeply embedded in social context (Boholm, 2012). The HHB's assumption of control over the project exemplifies a rationalist's bias: the project is being led by engineering firms; there is little community, and no social media planning; Bridge re-decking meetings are reserved for government regulators and CI owners and operators. To date, other than putting shuttle buses at the Bridge, the city has few plans for Bridge users. When re-decking begins, the impact will be felt broadly: people who use the Bridge off-peak will be under increased stress, particularly those who work non-standard work hours and disadvantaged groups with the least capacity to adapt, including low-income workers, the ill and elderly; there will be increased media coverage and a broader interpretation of a major CI event that is occurring in plain view in the Halifax Harbour.

The International Risk Governance Council's (IRGC) framework is a tool for developing a holistic approach to risk governance (Renn, 2008). Risk governance can be defined as the totality of actors, rules, conventions, processes and mechanisms concerned with how relevant risk information is collected, analyzed and communicated, and management decisions are taken. That different risk traditions exist, use different methods and tools and have different interpretations of events is not new. What is less clear, however, is how these competing rationales are acknowledged, accommodated and reconciled (or rejected) in a successful risk governance process. Equally, the model assumes a degree of consistency in the social context; less has been written about how the model can help us to understand a dynamic process in which the key issues are reframed from complex to uncertain to ambiguous (Renn, 2008), and how this re-framing influences human behaviour and risk processes.

The purpose of this research is threefold: (1) to understand the socioeconomic implications of restricting access to the Macdonald Bridge for extended periods; (2) to make recommendations about how communities can coordinate more effectively when infrastructure is disabled for extended periods; and (3) to make a contribution to the risk governance literature, examining competing risk rationales and risk tolerance and acceptance, in particular. We believe this a powerful learning opportunity for those studying the fuzzy concept of 'Smart City.'

We have assembled an international multi-disciplinary team of risk specialists, with expertise in risk perception, risk modeling, urban planning, social media and institutional responses to risk.
Effective start/end date21/05/1521/05/18


  • Smart Cities
  • Critical Infastructure
  • Supply Chains
  • risk giovernance
  • risk perception
  • risk communication
  • emergency management
  • social media
  • risk management