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Chiming in with Dean Fortin at this juncture - *Blue Bridge*

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Johnson Street Bridge in Victoria BC
Johnson Street Bridge in Victoria BC
Dean Fortin, Mayor, City of Victoria
Dean Fortin, Mayor, City of Victoria

Referendum -- amidst the blues being sung about the Blue Bridge

Chiming in with Dean Fortin at this juncture

The Johnson Street bridge, known as the Blue Bridge, connects downtown Victoria to Vic West-Esquimalt and is a precious and threatened historic and heritage edifice close to the hearts of many locals.  The bridge could be said to span ‘the river of personal memories’ for many Victorians; some in town deeply saddened by the news that the old bridge, constructed in 1924, may be torn down.  

A French term for see-saw and balance, its “Bascule” construction has a moveable part with a counterweight that continuously balances the leaf during the upward raising and interestingly, in an age where energy conservation matters, this design of bridge requires relatively little energy to function. For more info http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnson_Street_Bridge

Many have rallied for its refurbishment rather than its replacement.  Whether that’s a lofty goal is yet to be decided.  The crystal ball says the story ain’t over yet on that count. The Referendum will take place November 20, the same day the by-election for a new councillor will take place. Supposedly looking at the issue of how the bill to replace the bridge is to be paid. Not whether it should be repaired or replaced. Interesting because loud public opinion, to this day, is steadfast in its demand - the conversation about refurbishment should be re-opened.  Larry Wartels, one of many visible activists, puts it like this: “Like with everything in life, what's just and decent requires constant participation by the masses… blue bridge preservation …or anything against maximising profits… which is what the bridge replacement represents.“ 

The estimate for building a new bridge has come in at tens of millions, always in excess of, $50.000.000 to replace and to repair, with refurbishment estimates being grossly misstated and setting off a firestorm of controversy. What has angered some residents is the statement that’s been made that the City of Victoria [wanted] to replace the bridge instead of repairing it without a Referendum. A recent Focus magazine investigation has unfortunately added fuel to the confusion. 

Face-off

In the October 2010 edition of Focus on-line based out of Victoria, Leslie Campbell asks the question: Why did the City delete the original Delcan report?” http://www.focusonline.ca/?q=node/108.   right at the outset of her article entitled, Seeking Answers and Input -- clearly intent on framing the conversation about the bridge in a particular way.  Campbell’s question is a deliberately leading question, is it not? Could be said to be outright damming, even -- but -- if -- a distortion of the facts or even downright inaccurate (as may be the case here) -- it doesn’t serve a fair and scientific evaluation of what’s going on.  We’ll get to know the facts -- as Dean Fortin sees them -- momentarily but first we’ll cover the following. 

The good Jack Etkin of ICTV, intrigued by Focus’ supposed discovery, has been sending the information on mailing lists, and thus giving legs to something started by Focus.  He writes his understanding: “Delcan Report says Blue Bridge can be fixed for $8.6 Million … City loses report?  Corporate Media silent as Focus Magazine uncovers very interesting story.“ 

Going on to re-report “But the city of Victoria says that they can't find that report... it has disappeared. The October Focus Magazine says that two Delcan reports from 2008 recommended that the city move ahead with an $8.6 refurbishment of the Johnson St. Bridge. The city says they no longer have those reports, even though 'the city's engineering department refers to copies being sent to the city's print shop' and electronic copies also existed.  On Sept 8, 2010, the city told Focus they would ask Delcan for the missing reports, but as Focus says ... no word on that yet (prior to printing the Oct issue). “ 

Etkin’s own question “Why are residents not being told that an $8.6 million fix-up may be a viable alternative to the $90 million plan” seems reasonable.  At first glance.  But given the massive cost discrepancy, I was a touch uneasy about the Focus premise [and now Etkins’] as unwitting as it may be.  So, decided to go straight to city hall and ask that Mayor Dean Fortin to respond directly.  Particularly since Andrew MacLeod, in the November 2010 edition of Focus states: “ Several of the likely frontrunners argue the city had lots of options, including spending just $8.6 million to refurbish the bridge, as Focus uncovered in August.” This suggests potentially mis-information is filtering even further. 

That said, it is worth trying to understand the $8 M supposed quote versus the $35M, $65M and $80+M quotes now on hand. If you live in Victoria, you’re being asked to vote on an already-decided-brand-new design and then possibly pay for whatever they do to the bridge. Actually quite unfair on Victoria residents to have to pay almost the full shot as the Blue Bridge is used by so many others as they come and go from Victoria. But at least the CRD is coming up with part of the cost.

 Dean Fortin appreciated the opportunity to discuss the anomaly in the numbers. At first reading my thought was, the $8 M may have been an initial cost for repainting the bridge or some such, and was good until such time as the engineers really took a look and realized there is much more to be done to make it safe. 

This is what Fortin says are the facts as of 4:52 pm on October 30, 2010: 

“Delcan Engineering has never submitted a report to the City advising of an $8.6million estimate. I understand that early in the technical analysis -- four months before Delcan's assessment was complete and submitted -- an email noted an $8.6 million figure related to some of the work. 

It was not a number submitted to the City as a complete estimate, nor did it appear in a draft report, and it was clearly noted it was absent of other analysis underway. 

The only number which has validity is be the $23.6 million dollar estimate as this is the number that was reflected in the final 2009 Condition Assessment report. 

Delcan Engineering stand behind the content of their condition assessment report based on the scope of work at that time. Estimates were refined and updated through the evaluation process and any costs prior to the final costing submitted by Delcan Engineering, were without the benefit of detailed information that was gathered as the study progressed, resulting in the final estimate submitted officially to the City of Victoria in February 2009. 

Since the condition assessment was submitted in 2009, even more engineering analysis was completed on both options, and an independent peer review by a local, and respected engineering firm was conducted that also found the costing and methodology applied to both options was sound. 

Nine different engineers from three different engineering firms stand behind the numbers submitted.  All agree there is not an inexpensive or cheap option.  All put their professional reputation and legal liability on the line.  I know of no engineer who has looked at the conditional assessments who has a different opinion and is willing to legally stand behind it.  I trust this clarifies that the $8.6million is not a complete estimate and was never submitted to the City as an estimate for repair.” 

I’ll say this though to Focus. It defies logic to imagine the bridge can be entirely repaired for $8.6 million. Any fool would know that it had to have been a partial estimate. Thus the premise of the original Focus article in this argument, is nothing but a red herring swimming in the choppy waters under our beloved Blue Bridge.  Let’s not distort facts presented to Victoria residents by trying to misrepresent cost estimates in such a blatantly unhelpful way.  And hence obscuring the real opportunity to re-examine what the options are for refurbishment of the bridge as opposed to replacement. Since there clearly remains the face-off between those who want to maintain the historical in as best a way as feasible and possible and those charging ahead with what is being perceived as a whiz-bang new structure, which may even bring about a toll in due course.  Anyone thought of that?  P3 of a bridge.  It could happen.  You heard it here first. And to boot an erasure of Victoria’s history. 

Trying to find a bascule, a balance between the differing views, is what’s at stake now.  The Referendum moves things forward, too quickly, at a time when there’s isn’t a broad consensus on what should actually be done to-the-bridge.  It would appear there are [still] options available which would not require a total tear down. Especially disheartening is the idea of no rail in the new design quite irrespective of the proposed whiz bang cycling route. This bike-trail eco aspect feature of the new design should not preclude the need for the city to consider historic rail line always terminating at Store Street, for instance.  Thought we were trying to preserve train lines? 

Suffice to say a new bridge should mimic the style and appearance of our existing iconic bridge if refurbishment/repair is shown not be a viable option. Then it would not be as painful…a piece of our childhood taken away.

http://tiddletaddle.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/the-johnson-street-bridge/ for artistic rendering.


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