MONTREAL -- The design for a new, modern replacement for Montreal's aging Champlain bridge is being described by its proponents as beautiful and very stylish.

Denis Lebel, the federal infrastructure minister, showed off the design for the first time at a news conference on Friday.

The new bridge, which will cost between $3 billion and $5 billion, will replace the crumbling Champlain Bridge, which was completed in 1962.

One of several bridges that fall under federal jurisdiction, the Champlain links Montreal with its south shore suburbs and is used by more than 50 million vehicles every year.

The new bridge's signature is a huge pylon that will tower 160 metres above the St. Lawrence River or 120 metres above the roadway.

"At the beginning, people wanted to have a beautiful bridge," Lebel told reporters. "As for me, I said that it would, first of all, have to be solid.

"It can be very solid, but also very beautiful," he added.

Six lanes, with shoulders, will be for automobile traffic while a central span will handle public transit.

That span will be separated from the three automobile lanes on each side with open spaces that look over the river below.

There will also be separate paths for pedestrians and cyclists on both sides of the new bridge.

The entire roadway will gradually curve reaching a crest just above the St. Lawrence Seaway and then slowly descend until it reaches the island of Montreal.

So far, six consortia have expressed interest in constructing the structure and three of them will be chosen to submit bids.

They will be allowed to choose the material and construction methods, but there's no latitude when it comes to the design, durability of the work and the deadline.

"There's flexibility in the means, but we will be inflexible on the result," Lebel said. "We want a beautiful bridge that will last 125 years."

The federal government estimates the bridge project will create 30,000 jobs and should be completed and ready for traffic in December 2018.

The bridge design is the work of Danish architect Poul Ove Jensen, who in the past has carried out several similar structures in collaboration with the Montreal architectural firm Provencher-Roy.

Architect Claude Provencher said Montrealers will have an elegant bridge "in the image of our community, warm, simple and yes, beautiful."

The federal minister told a news conference that negotiations are underway with the owners of 16 homes that were located on the Montreal side to widen the corridor leading to the bridge.

Motorists will soon start to feel the effects of the huge worksite when, starting this fall, they will be redirected to a floating bridge which will temporarily replace the Nuns' Island Bridge which is being demolished and rebuilt.