Bridge from Island to Canada Mainland Nears Parliament OK PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

Article excerpt

PLANS to build a bridge linking Prince Edward Island with the New Brunswick mainland are going ahead despite unresolved questions about its economic viability and environmental effects, opponents of the project say.

Canada's House of Commons on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved enabling legislation to permit government-subsidized financing of the controversial eight-mile long, $840-million (Canadian; US$663 million) bridge. The bill is now before the Canadian Senate, which is expected to give the final OK by next week.

"We need not only an environmental study, but a serious study of the finances," Sen. Heath Macquarrie says. He promises to do everything he can in the Senate to delay or defeat the legislation. Even he, however, expects the bill easily to pass muster next week given its backing by both the ruling Progressive Conservative Party and opposition Liberal Party leaders. "Something on the order of the auditor general is needed to go through this," Senator Macquarrie says. "There is a distinct danger that this will be a heavy drain on the taxpayers of this country."

Though eventually replacing several ferry boats and 650 ferry workers, the bridge would still cost taxpayers far more than continuing to operate and upgrade the ferry service, contends Macquarrie and other opponents, including Prince Edward Island fishermen, citizen groups, and unions.

Elmer MacKay, who chairs the federal Department of Public Works, disagrees. As one of the biggest backers of the bridge, Mr. MacKay's view is that the bridge will cost taxpayers no more than the present ferry service - about $42 million a year for 35 years - or $1.5 billion when adjusted for inflation. He also cites a 1988 referendum that showed that more than 60 percent of island residents approve of the bridge.

The "fixed-link," he says, will make it immeasureably easier to reach the island year-round and increase the flow of tourists and dollars to the island. …