Public Service Commission
A quick highway historyThanks to the Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy, traveling on Prince Edward Island is a lot easier than it used to be. It is only in the past several decades that roads have been paved, and for many Islanders who traveled on dirt roads, experiences of mud, dust, puddles, loose gravel and getting stuck in sinkholes is a thing of the past.
The demand for improved roads accelerated after the ban on automobiles was completely lifted in 1919. Banned in 1908, and then partially relaxed, the use of automobiles gradually increased.. Between 1916 and 1930, the number of cars in the province soared from about 1,000 to 7,400. At that time, roads were quite primitive. There was hardly any drainage, hills were steep and rocky, soil conditions were poor and many were impassable in winter and early spring.
Given the high density of the population, the road network was extensive. In 1923, the provincial government reported that it was maintaining nearly 5,000 miles of dirt roads, 403 concrete culverts, 120 steel culverts, at least 15 bridges that were 15 feet long or over, along with a number of government-operated ferries. By 1928, the annual report of the Department of Highways stated that, “The problem of maintaining the roads to the standard which is demanded by the traveling public is one of paramount importance.” However, most of those 5,000 miles were little more than dirt tracks; only 140 had been graveled by 1930.
The first paved road in the province went out on what is now University Avenue in Charlottetown in 1930. It was 10,060 feet long and 16 feet wide. Since that time, the demand for paved roads was a constant feature of life in the province.
Today, the provincially managed portion of the Island’s road network consists of 3,824 kilometers of paved roads and 1,558 kilometers of dirt roads. There are 1,389 bridges and highway structures. The cost of maintaining that extensive infrastructure is approximately $45 million, one of the largest capital expenditures in the provincial budget.