Connecting Prince Edward Island with New Brunswick, the Confederation Bridge stretches nearly 13 kilometres across the Northumberland Strait and is an easy and convenient travel route for Maritimers and Islanders.
In the Beginning
Described as a top national engineering achievement, construction of the Confederation Bridge, the longest bridge in Canada, was necessary to replace an existing ferry service that previously linked the two provinces. At that time, the government-subsidized ferry service became too costly and a bridge linking the two provinces was seen as a much more suitable and affordable option.
“The operating costs of the ferry were increasing at a much faster rate than inflation, so a long-term, cost-effective solution was needed in order for [the federal government] to continue to meet their obligation toward Islanders in providing a link to the mainland,” Michel Le Chasseur, General Manager of Confederation Bridge, told The Canadian Business Journal.
“As an added bonus, replacing the ferry service with a bridge has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by a net 50,000 tonnes per year.”
Construction of the Confederation Bridge began on Oct. 7, 1993, following a public referendum that favoured building a fixed link; the bridge opened to traffic on May 31, 1997. A major undertaking, the project employed more than 2,000 people and, including all trades, involved 6,000 individuals over its four-year construction period. At a cost of $1 billion, the Confederation Bridge was built with a design life of 100 years.
It wasn’t the first time such a major bridge construction project had been discussed. In the 1960s, discussions of a fixed link between the two provinces initiated, and construction of approach roads was briefly undertaken. However, a feasible engineering solution like the modern version was not realized at the time, and a global solution would have to wait until the late 1980’s when talks about a fixed link were rekindled.
Le Chasseur described, “The project needed an all-encompassing solution that covered not only the technical side, but the financial and political aspects as well, all to meet a constitutional commitment of the federal government towards Islanders. On the technical side, there was the ice build up to contend with and on the financial side the cost to taxpayers needed to be capped. On the sociopolitical front, Islanders needed to buy into the project before it could go forward. Overall, it was a significant undertaking well suited for a Public-Private Partnership [“P3”], one of the first such applications in Canada.”
For the private developer, Strait Crossing Development Inc. (SCDI), the concept meant, “design, build, operate, transfer.” The operation component of the agreement extends for 35 years, or until 2032, at which time the bridge will revert back to the federal government. During the 35-year concession period, toll revenues, collected upon leaving Prince Edward Island, are to the account of the developer in exchange for the risk of construction, along with the maintenance and operation of the facility. Essentially, SCDI’s responsibility is to manage the facility as a prudent owner and to provide for the safety and security of the travelling public.
This year, the Confederation Bridge celebrates its 15th anniversary and to mark the occasion, the bridge has increased its ongoing support of Prince Edward Island’s tourism industry to include all major tourism events on the Island’s calendar. The anniversary also marks the near half-point of the 35-year operational agreement of the Confederation Bridge.
Linking Prince Edward Island with New Brunswick, the Confederation Bridge has served as a major facilitator and tourism driver of the two provinces. Accordingly, Confederation Bridge works alongside a variety of grassroots organizations to continue building the local tourism factor.
“Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick are fabulous places to visit and it is very natural for us to support the tourism industry that drives traffic into the region,” Le Chasseur concluded.
“The 15th anniversary is a time to celebrate, but also a time to reflect. Right now there is a line in the sand as to what will happen at the end [of the agreement], but there will be quite a lot of discussion beyond that. From a maintenance perspective over our 15 years, it is all good news. The bridge is very robust and was built that way because of the ice factor. We see very little repairs to the bridge. After 15 years, it is safe to say that the honeymoon is over, but the bridge still exceeds everyone’s expectations in terms of quality of work.”