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Prince Edward Island's "Fixed Link"

For the week of Monday, May 29, 2017

On May 31, 1997, thousands of people walked from Prince Edward Island (PEI) to New Brunswick (NB) on the Confederation Bridge to mark its official opening. At 12.9 kilometres in length, it is the world’s longest bridge over ice-covered waters.

A stamp commemorating the opening of the Confederation Bridge in 1997
© Canada Post Corporation 1997 / Library and Archives Canada

Before the Confederation Bridge was built, the only year round transportation to and from PEI was by ferry. The bridge’s construction, from 1993 to 1997, cost $1 billion, and needed 5,000 workers to finish on time.

The bridge rests on 65 piers and is divided into three sections: the 1.3 km west approach at Jourimain Island, NB; the 11 km main section; and the 0.6 km east approach at Borden-Carleton, PEI. While most of the bridge deck is 40 metres above sea level, the centre spans reach 60 metres to allow large ocean-going vessels to pass underneath.

Construction was done primarily at onshore facilities in both Atlantic provinces. The pier components and main girders weighed up to 7500 tonnes and reached 192 metres long! They were floated on barges to the bridge site and then installed by the massive Svanen floating crane. A post-tensioning technique tied the pier and main girder sections together. The final step was to place smaller, simply-supported, drop-in girders at the centre of each span.

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Carrying a main bridge girder, the one-of-a-kind Svanen crane towers at a height of 102 metres
© 2016 Strait Crossing Bridge Limited

Several features were included to maximize vehicle safety. The bridge curves gently in order to keep drivers attentive, specialized asphalt minimizes vehicle spray in wet conditions, and 1.1 metre barrier walls on either side reduce wind loads on vehicles. In addition, 7000 drain ports reduce the amount of rainwater, and melted snow on the roadway. Each bridge pier is flared at the waterline to reduce loading from sea ice, lowering the potential for ice-induced vibrations.

The Ice Boat Service, a designated national historic event, was PEI’s original winter connection to mainland Canada. To learn more see Winter Crossing: Ice Boats in the Northumberland Strait in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada, and be sure to visit the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada webpage. Explore Canada 150!

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