The Confederation Bridge (Pont de la Confédération) is a bridge spanning the Abegweit Passage of Northumberland Strait, linking Prince Edward Island with mainland New Brunswick, Canada. It was commonly referred to as the "Fixed Link" (cf. fixed link) by residents of Prince Edward Island prior to its official naming. Construction took place from the fall of 1993 to the spring of 1997, costing $1.3 billion. The long bridge opened on 31 May 1997.
It is a multi-span post-tensioned concrete box girder structure. Most of the curved bridge is above water, and it contains a high navigation span to permit ship traffic. The bridge rests on 62 piers, of which the 44 main piers are apart. The bridge is wide.
The speed limit on the bridge is . It takes about 10 minutes to cross the bridge.
Pedestrians and cyclists are not permitted to cross, however a shuttle service is available. From 1997-2005 the shuttle service was free of fares. Beginning January 1, 2006 the shuttle service has been charging $4.00 per pedestrian or $8.00 per cyclist, although this fare is only applied when exiting Prince Edward Island.
Following Confederation, early steamship services across Northumberland Strait connected the Island ports of Charlottetown and Georgetown with railway facilities at Pictou, Nova Scotia. Similar services operated between Summerside and Shediac, New Brunswick via the New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island Railway, a short line that provided a connection to the ICR.
The most direct route across the Northumberland Strait, however, was at the wide Abegweit Passage. Infrequent winter service provided by underpowered steamships incapable of breaking sea ice ensured the survival of a passenger and mail service across Abegweit Passage using iceboats until a permanent ferry service was established in the 1910s.
The unsatisfactory winter steamship service and reliance upon primitive iceboats provoked complaints from the Island government until the federal government decided to implement a railcar ferry service across Abegweit Passage between new ports at Port Borden and Cape Tormentine.
In 1912, the federal government promised to open a car ferry between the "Capes" (Cape Traverse, PEI to Cape Tormentine, NB). The privately-owned railway line from Sackville, NB to Cape Tormentine was purchased by the federal government and an order was made with a shipyard in England for an icebreaking railcar ferry, to be called the Prince Edward Island. Ports were developed at Carleton Point, several kilometres west of Cape Traverse and Cape Tormentine; the port at Carleton Point would be named Borden in honour of Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden.
The new ferry entered service in 1915 and operated on the former steamship routes until new harbour facilities were opened in October 1917. Automobile service was added in 1938 and other vessels followed as the ferry service expanded in the post-war years.
This ferry service was initially the responsibility of Canadian Government Railways (1917-1918) and later Canadian National Railway (1918-1977), then a CNR subsidiary CN Marine (1977–1986). In 1986, CN Marine was renamed when all federal government ferry services in Atlantic Canada were transferred to the new Crown corporation Marine Atlantic.Ferry service years
Early talk of a fixed link can be traced to George Howlan who called for construction of a railway tunnel beneath Abegweit Passage at the same time as a railway was being built across the province in the 1870s. Howlan also raised the issue as a member of the provincial Legislative Assembly, and in March, 1891 as a Senator and member of a delegation to meetings on the subject, conducted at the British Parliament. The idea lost favour following his death in 1901.
Talk of a fixed link was revived in the 1950s and 1960s, coinciding with federal election campaigns. The topic was raised in 1957, only two years following the opening of the Canso Causeway, and at the same time as another mega-project, the St. Lawrence Seaway was being constructed. A rockfill causeway was proposed to cross Abegweit Passage, with a bridge/tunnel to accommodate shipping. This plan was rejected for navigational reasons but was raised again in 1962, and in 1965, the federal government, ignoring concerns of the shipping industry, called for tenders for a $148 million fixed link featuring a tunnel/causeway/bridge. Approach roads and railway lines were constructed at Borden and Jourimain Island but the project was formally abandoned in 1969 upon scientific recommendation in favour of improved ferry services.
Due to the extremely complex tidal regime in the Northumberland Strait consisting of diurnal and semi-diurnal cycles, any attempt to close Abegweit Passage would be next to impossible since the tidal cycles on each side of a causeway would be placed at opposites to each other. It is estimated by tidal experts at the Canadian Hydrographic Service, that tidal currents through a gap in such a causeway would be in excess of , powerful enough to counter most commercial ships and to sweep away boulders the size of houses.
Consideration of a fixed link was renewed in the 1980s by an unsolicited proposal from a Nova Scotia businessman. The federal government favoured the construction of a fixed link chiefly because of the rising costs of providing ferry service (a constitutional requirement dating from PEI's accession to Confederation) and the increasing deficits being incurred by the railway system on PEI (run as part of Canadian National, then a Crown corporation). The federal government proposed to provide a fixed subsidy for the construction and operation of a fixed link, in return for the province agreeing to the abandonment of the ferry service and the railway system.
Following the election of the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, with its agenda for regional development through so-called "mega-projects," Public Works Canada called for formal proposals in 1987 and received three offers. These proposals included a tunnel, a bridge, and a combined tunnel-causeway-bridge.
During the debate, the anti-link group Friends of the Island cited potential ecological damage from the construction, as well as concerns about the impact on Prince Edward Island's lifestyle in general, and noted that the "mega-project" model has had limited success in other areas of the world, and rarely enriched the local population. The Friends of the Island believed that a fixed link was being pressured by a federal government not willing to shoulder the cost of constitutional obligations for funding an efficient ferry service, and that a link would be built largely for the benefit of mainland tourists and businesses waiting to exploit the Island.
The pro-link group Islanders for a Better Tomorrow noted transportation reliability would result in improvements for exporters and the tourism industry.
The result was 59.4% [in total percentage] in favour of the fixed link.
The debate did not end with the 1988 plebiscite and the federal government faced numerous legal challenges and a lengthy environmental impact assessment for the project. The developer of the single bridge proposal, Strait Crossing Development Inc., was selected and an announcement that the Northumberland Strait Crossing Project would be built was finally made on December 2, 1992; the developer being required to privately finance all construction through bond markets.
Shareholders of Strait Crossing Development Inc. include:
As mentioned, the Schedule to the Prince Edward Island Terms of Union in the Constitution of Canada had required steamship service to connect the Island's railway system with that of mainland North America. Steamships were replaced by a dedicated ferry service in 1917, however, no changes were made to the wording of the constitution. The fixed crossing, however, was sufficiently divergent to require a constitutional amendment (see Amendments to the Constitution of Canada).
The Constitution Amendment Proclamation, 1993 (Prince Edward Island) dealt with this issue, as well as the issue of tolls on the crossing. It made clear that the government (or a private body) was within its right to charge a toll (an essential part of the government's financing plans) for the crossing without violating the terms of union:
Construction was started by Strait Crossing Development Inc. in the fall of 1993, beginning with preparation of staging facilities. Bridge components were built year-round from 1994 to summer of 1996, and placement of components began in fall 1994 until fall 1996. Approach roads, toll plazas and final work on the structure continued until the spring of 1997, at an estimated total cost of $1 billion.
All bridge components were constructed on land, in purpose-built staging yards located on the shoreline at Amherst Head, fronting on Borden Harbour just east of the town and ferry docks, and an inland facility located at Bayfield, New Brunswick about west of Cape Tormentine. The Amherst Head staging facility was where all large components were built, including the pier bases, ice shields, main spans, and drop-in spans. The Bayfield facility was used to construct components for the near-shore bridges which were linked using a launching truss extending over shallow waters almost from the New Brunswick shore, and from the Prince Edward Island shore.
Extremely durable high-grade concrete and reinforcing steel was used throughout construction of the pre-cast components, with the estimated lifespan of the bridge being in excess of 100 years. Their sheer size and weight required strengthening of the soil base during the design and preparation work for the Amherst Head staging facility, as well as the use of a crawler transport system to move pieces from fabrication to storage, and onto a nearby pier. These crawler transports, using specially designed teflon-coated concrete rails, earned the nickname lobsters from workers.
All major components were lifted from the Amherst Head staging facility, transported, and placed in Abegweit Passage using the HLV Svanen, a Danish-built heavy lift catamaran, which during the construction of the fixed link was reportedly the tallest man-made structure in the province. HLV Svanen was custom-built for use on the Great Belt Bridge in the early 1990s, Denmark's largest construction project, and was modified at a French shipyard before working on the Northumberland Strait Crossing Project. Following the placement of the final major component and completion of the bridge structure in Abegweit Passage on November 19, 1996, HLV Svanen returned to Denmark for use in construction of the Øresund Bridge.
Construction of the fixed link required over 5,000 workers ranging from labourers and specialty trades, to engineers, surveyors and managers. The economic impact of construction on Prince Edward Island was substantial, with the provincial GDP rising over 5% during the construction, providing a short-term economic boom for the Island.
Since the Island-coined nickname "Fixed Link" was not considered appropriate, and the federal government-coined project name "Northumberland Strait Crossing Project" was deemed awkward, there was a need for a formal name for the structure. Throughout construction, the federal government received suggestions for names and on September 27, 1996 the name "Confederation Bridge" was chosen.
This name is not without controversy as many Islanders feel the word "Confederation" is overused throughout the province, finding use in the name of a Northumberland Ferries Limited vessel (M/V Confederation), a performing arts centre and art gallery (Confederation Centre of the Arts), a shopping centre (Confederation Court Mall), and the province-wide rails to trails system (Confederation Trail), as well as in tourism promotions (eg. "Birthplace of Confederation"). The preference of Islanders was reportedly to use the name "Abegweit Crossing" which would pay homage to the Abegweit Passage, the vessel M/V Abegweit which the bridge would replace, and to the Mi'kmaq traditional name for the province.
However, at a time when national unity had just been challenged in the razor-thin results of the 1995 Quebec referendum, the federal government opted for a bilingually appropriate and nationally accepted, politically correct name for Canada's longest bridge connecting the mainland portion of the country to the province where the first meetings at the Charlottetown Conference in September 1864 led to the Confederation of British North America.
In the days following the opening of the bridge, ferry operator Marine Atlantic disposed of its four vessels. The ferry terminals and docks in both ports were removed over the summer of 1997.
The Government of Canada agreed to an annual payment of approximately $44 million for 33 years to Strait Crossing Development Inc., this being the subsidy which was formerly paid to Marine Atlantic to cover operating losses of the ferry system. These payments are in effect a mortgage and are being used by the developer to pay off construction costs. In 2032 the bridge's ownership will revert to the federal government.
All tolls charged by SCBL are profit for the consortium with toll increases indexed to inflation and regulated by the federal government. The consortium has rarely commented upon the profitability of the bridge, however upon the structure's 10th anniversary, it was revealed that there had been a 30% cost over-run in construction ($330 million), which the consortium is forced to cover out of toll revenue since the federal government ferry subsidy is used to pay for the original tendered price ($1 billion). Operating costs for the bridge have also proven expensive, with warranty repairs for asphalt adherence and the complete replacement of all bridge deck lighting cutting into profits. Toll revenues have fallen over 30% since the bridge opened, largely explained by declining tourism traffic and domestic travel and currently range from $25 to $30 million annually. After expenses in 2003, the consortium received a year-end dividend of $2.6 million.
A low-power information radio station transmits from a pier near the centre of the span. CIRB-FM broadcasts travel warnings and weather alerts, along with traffic reports related to the bridge and visitor information pertaining to Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.
Where the link has made a difference is in the export of food from Prince Edward Island's agriculture and fishing industries. Potato production has increased dramatically, with industrial farming techniques being used to meet the demand. An increased number of food processing plants, creating items such as french fries and potato chips, have also benefitted from access to the increased potato crop and the ease of transporting off the island. Time-critical seafood has also increased exports from Prince Edward Island since 1997.
The island has also witnessed a revolution in its retail sector since the opening of the Fixed Link. Prior to 1997, big box stores could only be found in larger centres in the Maritimes such as Halifax, Moncton, or Saint John. Prince Edward Island had a larger number of smaller, family-owned retail stores than other provinces, with few shopping malls and less selection of consumer goods. The opening of the Fixed Link was viewed with concern by government and the retail sector alike, as many thought Islanders would use the quicker transportation connection to drive to Moncton for many large-item purchases. While there was a small increase in the number of off-Island shoppers, the provincial government established a program of encouraging big box retailers to establish in the province, including elimination of provincial sales tax on clothing and footwear, resulting in a plethora of chains such as Wal-Mart, Future Shop, Staples, and Home Depot choosing to build stores on the Island. Correspondingly, many smaller locally-owned stores have gone out of business in one of the more visible impacts since the opening of the Fixed Link .