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In 1864 members of the Canadian federal government, most notably, John A. Macdonald, proposed Prince Edward and other Atlantic provinces join Confederation. The Confederation Act was eventually accepted and passed in 1867, but without Prince Edward Island’s support. They did not agree to join the union until 1873 when the government promised to provide year-round steamship service from Prince Edward Island to the mainland.

For the next hundred years or so, a series of ferries were kept busy transporting not just people and their cars across the waters of Northumberland Strait, but also goods and produce, and most everything else that aided in day-to-day survival for the people living on the small, picturesque island province of Prince Edward Island. In the winter this sometimes became very risky once the waters of the strait turned frigid and iced over.

People lobbied for a bridge to link Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick for many years. In most cases the money and the technology was just not available to perform such a mammoth feat. Protests from environmentalists and concerned fisherman who believed that the lobster, scallop, herring and haddock fishing grounds might be permanently damaged by such a huge and lengthy construction project, also caused delays. It wasn’t until July 1, 1997, that the long-awaited and trouble-plagued Confederation Bridge was finally a reality and opened to the public.

The bridge was built under a public-private partnering arrangement between the Canadian government and the private sector, and cost in the neighborhood of 850 million dollars Canadian. It’s 13 kilometres (8 miles) long and is known as a “fixed link” bridge. Many of the components were assembled off-site, then moved to the bridge location using a special Huisman slider system. Each piece was then carefully set into permanent position using a huge floating catamaran crane, at the time considered to be the largest in the world.

The Confederation bridge itself is made up of 44 spans, each one 820 feet long and weighing in excess of 8000 metric tons. These spans are supported by piers planted in waters that are 115 feet deep. Conical ice shields protect against the harsh winter elements. The Confederation Bridge is the longest bridge in the world that spans ice-covered salt water. There are only two lanes all the way across and the speed limit is strictly monitored at 80 kilometres, nor are drivers allowed to stop or to pass other vehicles. Even at this reduced speed, however, it only takes 10 minutes to cross the bridge once drivers have proceeded through the toll booths. The crossing might be considered a mere blink of an eye when compared to the previous 3 hour ferry ride.

Other modern technologies have been employed for this one-of-a-kind bridge. Its surface is covered by a long-lasting “bituminous” mixture that cuts down on vehicle spray when the weather is wet, (which is often) and also permits for more effective water drainage from rain, snow or icy conditions. There is a permanent weather monitoring system on the Confederation Bridge that gives important, up-to-the-minute information such as wind speed and direction, temperatures, and rates of precipitation.
Changeable message signs broadcast this data to approaching drivers from each end of the bridge.

Concrete barriers that stand 1.1 metres high also protect drivers from the treacherous Northumberland Strait winds, which have been clocked at near hurricane force. During such severe conditions the Confederation Bridge must be shut down.

Other fascinating Confederation Bridge Facts:

1) 310 streetlights illuminate the bridge.

2) it has a hollow core, designed as a utility pathway for various necessary services like phones, electric and utilities.

3) power cannot fail since the bridge has its own electrical generator system installed.

4) there is constant 24 hour surveillance, aided by 17 closed circuit TV cameras.

5) there is also a manned 24 hour patrol service.

6) emergency phones and fire extinguishers are located every 750 metres.

7) engineers designed the bridge with a curve to make sure that drivers pay more attention to the road.

8) the highest point is 60 metres above Northumberland Strait.

9) excess water from run-off or melting snow is taken care of by over 7000 drainage ports.

10) 34 traffic signals are spaced at regular intervals across the bridge. During ideal weather conditions all of them will show up in green.

The Confederation Bridge is many things -- a one-of-a-kind marvel of engineering, a link between two of Canada’s most picturesque Atlantic provinces -- Prince Edward Island’s long-awaited roadway across the sea.