Some running the 8-mile span, others just strolling, thousands of people celebrated the opening of Canada’s longest bridge Friday by reaching this scenic island on foot.
Built over four years for an estimated $750 million, the Confederation Bridge links Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, with the New Brunswick mainland. It replaces a year-round ferry service that began in 1832 and required ever-increasing government subsidies.
Sixty percent of island voters endorsed construction of a bridge in a 1988 referendum. But even among proponents, the bridge roused mixed emotions for those who fear the province’s “island way of life” won’t be quite the same.
The bridge was opened only to pedestrians Friday, and they had to pay a $4.35 fee. An estimated 20,000 crossed the bridge, including participants in a footrace won by university student Neil Manson in 44 minutes - a minute faster than the normal ferry crossing time.
Henceforth, the bridge will be closed to pedestrians, but it will open to vehicles today as part of a weekend-long celebration.
Round-trip tolls for vehicles range from $10 for motorcycles to $25 for cars and $145 for buses.
The drive over the bridge will take about 15 minutes, compared to 45 minutes on the ferry. Islanders say that comparison understates the convenience the bridge will bring - in peak summer season, backed-up motorists often waited hours to get their vehicles aboard a ferry.
The bridge, slightly S-shaped for greater durability against ice and winds on the Northumberland Strait, is one of the longest fixed links in the world. It consists of 44 spans, each with a main concrete girder 630 feet long.
The bridge builders - a consortium of French, Dutch and Canadian companies - solicited advice from some of the world’s top ice experts and designed huge cone-shaped shields to protect the piers. Those in place last winter proved effective - ice chunks rose up after hitting them, then crumbled and kept moving.
When the project was launched in 1993, it was estimated construction would cost about $610 million. The company won’t say how much it actually cost.