Originally published March 15, 2010.
The Confederation Bridge connects the provinces of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. At 12.9 kilometres, it is the longest bridge in the world that crosses ice-covered water. Connecting P.E.I. to the mainland, the Confederation Bridge crosses the Northumberland Strait between Borden-Carleton, PEI and Cape Tormentine, NB. Initially referred to as the Fixed Link by the Prince Edward Islanders, it was hotly contested and finally was sent to the population of the Island to decide in a referendum in 1988. Although with 59.4% of the islanders deciding to go ahead with the project, the federal government also had to face other legal challenges and environmental assessments before construction could begin.
One legal hurdle was the Constitution of Canada. The Constitution specified that the federal government was required to provide steamship service to Prince Edward Island. With the bridge, steamship and ferry service would not be required and a Constitutional amendment was required. Proclaimed in 1993, the amendment reads:
That a fixed crossing joining the Island to the mainland may be substituted for the steam service referred to in this Schedule… That, for greater certainty, nothing in this Schedule prevents the imposition of tolls for the use of such a fixed crossing between the Island and the mainland, or the private operation of such a crossing;
Construction finally began in 1993 and was completed in 1996, through the winter the builder finished paving the bridge deck and installing the vehicle barriers, lights, etc. Officially opened on May 31, 1997, the Confederation Bridge cost a total of $1.3 billion to complete. As agreed to with the developers, the federal government is paying the bridge operator approximately $44 million per year for 33 years which is roughly what the subsidy to the ferry operator would have been. In 2032 the Confederation Bridge’s ownership will be transferred to the Government of Canada.