The Merv Hardie ferry in Fort Providence, N.W.T., has at least one more season, but questions remain as to whether the bridge will deliver the savings politicians promised.

The Government of the Northwest Territories says the bridge will cost $182 million to build.

It claims the bridge will cut the cost of shipping goods and fuel north, provide a year-round link to the south, and make it cheaper to live in the Northwest Territories.

Commercial vehicles will have to pay tolls, but many in the business community say the bridge won’t cut shipping costs.

"For us, it'll be very similar because we'll be eliminating the higher cost of flying," said Jeff Kincaid, the business development manager of the Co-op store in Yellowknife.


Jeff Kincaid, the business development manager for the Yellowknife Co-op store, says the bridge won't reduce his costs because he will still have to pay tolls for the trucks shipping products for his store North. (CBC)

The Co-op in Yellowknife pays between $100,000 and $250,000 a year to charter helicopters to ferry supplies across the river during freeze-up and break-up.

The store won't have to pay those costs when the bridge opens.

"Stress-wise, it'll be nice but in terms of the shelves, there won't be a whole lot of difference. It'll just be a little easier to manage," said Kincaid.

But the store will have to pay bridge tolls year round, which will cost about $7 per tonne, plus inflation.

"I would see it being more frustrating for companies that don't fly that aren't in the habit of flying because they [are] just seeing a rise in cost," he said.

The president of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce says the tolls will be just one per cent of shipping costs.

Larry Jacquard says rising fuel costs pose a much bigger threat, and he says businesses will have to adapt to paying the tolls.

"Some of the companies will absorb part of that, some of them will increase a small percentage of their pricing. I don't think the consumer of tomorrow will sit back and say the bridge just increased my milk by one per cent," said Jacquard.

But Jacquard says the link will be essential to the territory.

"We’re not going to have that blackout zone anymore, no more panic. We’re not going to be running out of diesel, fuel and milk, paying $8 for a pint of milk," he said, referring to times when low water levels during freeze-up prevented the ferry from running.

But Jacquard says the real test will be whether the tolls actually pay for the bridge.


Larry Jacquard, president of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, says the real test will be to see whether the tolls actually end up paying for the bridge, or whether taxpayers will foot the bill. (CBC)

Commercial traffic was supposed to pay for the bridge over 35 years. But now truck traffic is down and the price of the bridge is up.

Jacquard is skeptical that the bridge will still pay for itself.

"What's the taxpayer going to be paying in the next couple of years? We're very anxious to have those numbers out and see those numbers soon," he said.

Meanwhile, people in Fort Providence are seeing the benefits – more training and jobs and there are hopes for other spin-offs.


Greg Nyuli, who lives in Fort Providence, N.W.T., and is a former band manager, says he hopes the bridge will bring in more traffic to the community. (CBC)

"We need to get out there and market our businesses, I believe it's going to increase certainly the traffic coming through here in Providence and hopefully they'll stop by, stay for a while, go fishing," said Greg Nyuli, a community member and former band manager in Fort Providence.

Regardless of cost overruns or delays, when this bridge opens it will be the first permanent link connecting most of the territory to the rest of Canada.