Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Mystique of the Confederation Bridge

The Mystique of the Confederation Bridge

By Natsumi Koshigaya
The Daily Magi
November 23, 2060

The Confederation Bridge (French: Pont de la Confédération) spans the Abegweit Passage of Northumberland Strait. It links Prince Edward Island with mainland New Brunswick, Canada. Before its official naming, Prince Edward Islanders often referred to the bridge as the "Fixed Link". Construction took place from October 1993 to May 1997 and cost C$1.3 billion. The 12.9-kilometre (8 mi) bridge opened on 31 May 1997.

The bridge is a two-lane toll bridge that carries the Trans-Canada Highway between Borden-Carleton, Prince Edward Island (at Route 1) and Cape Jourimain, New Brunswick (at Route 16). It is a multi-span beam bridge with a post-tensioned concrete box girder structure. Most of the curved bridge is 40 metres (131 ft) above water with a 60 m (197 ft) navigation span for ship traffic. The bridge rests on 62 piers, of which the 44 main piers are 250 m (820 ft) apart. The bridge is 11 m (36 ft) wide. The speed limit on the bridge is 80 kilometres per hour (50 mph). It takes about 12 minutes to cross the bridge.

Tolls only apply when leaving Prince Edward Island. The toll rate as of January 2014 will be C$45.00 for a two-axle automobile and C$7.25 for each additional axle. Motorcycles are charged C$18.00. While pedestrians and cyclists are not permitted to cross the bridge, a shuttle service is available. Before 2006, the shuttle was free but since 1 January 2013, the service has charged C$4.25 per pedestrian or C$8.25 per cyclist when leaving Prince Edward Island (i.e., westbound). The other major Northumberland Strait crossing, Wood Islands Ferry from Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island to Caribou, Nova Scotia, currently charges its C$66.00 per car fare only when leaving Prince Edward Island, with a charge of $17.00 per adult pedestrian, $40.00 per motorcycle, and $20.00 per bicycle. Travellers, whether entering the island by bridge and leaving by ferry or vice versa only pay for leaving the island.

The number of tourists visiting Prince Edward Island increased from 740,000 in 1996 (the year before the bridge opened) to 1,200,000 in 1997, but this dropped back to about 900,000 visitors annually. The number of visitors staying in overnight accommodations in the province actually fell below pre-1996 levels, as many visitors now tour Prince Edward Island in "day trips" out of Moncton or Halifax. Prince Edward Island has responded by building high-end attractions such as golf courses to encourage increased spending by tourists during their shorter stays.

The link has made a difference in the export of food from Prince Edward Island. 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 benefited 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.

There has been a revolution in the island's retail sector since the opening of the Confederation Bridge. Before 1997, big box stores were rare and mostly 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 Confederation Bridge 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 Walmart, Sears, Future Shop, Staples, and The Home Depot building stores on the Island. However, many smaller locally owned stores have gone out of business. This is one of the more visible impacts since the opening of the Confederation Bridge.

As a way of further promoting the island's new accessibility, the province issued vehicle license plates from 1997 through 2006 that featured a likeness of the Confederation Bridge between the serial number. With valid registration, these plates remain visible on the road today.

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