Bridge debate changes focus to cost, design

With the recent removal of one half of the Blue Bridge, debate over refurbishment or replacement has been locked firmly into the past

With the recent removal of one half of the Blue Bridge, debate over refurbishment or replacement has been locked firmly into the past.

Having lost the first battle, critics of the project have shifted their attention to points of contention in the construction of a new bridge. Climbing costs coupled with loss of amenities, like rail capability and shortening of the bridge span (which determines what size ships can make it into the upper harbour), have been responsible for the latest bout of hand-wringing both inside and outside of city hall.

Two weeks ago, Victoria’s three newest councillors — Ben Isitt, Lisa Helps, and Shellie Gudgeon —  voted for a motion to stop the design of our new signature, solid-gold-plated Johnson Street Bridge and instead put out a call for a redesign by another company. This newest bridge would incorporate the city’s earlier promise of rail capability and, presumably, a simpler and therefore cheaper design.

With only three votes in favour, the motion failed, guaranteeing us both the aesthetic and the cost of those brand new sweeping archways.

Councillor Ben Isitt explained that the motion gave the city an out — an opportunity to rethink a bridge that was designed at a time when cost may not have been the top priority.

“I think there is a real concern for potentially significant cost overruns, and I think it’s incumbent on council to provide much greater oversight of the project than it has provided to date,” he said.

With the failure of the motion, Isitt says there is little chance council will reconsider its current path. “In the absence of revelations of huge cost overruns or compelling technical or political reason . . . the city will proceed with the current design.”

However, that revelation might just occur. Immediately after passing over Isitt’s motion, council approved a motion from Lisa Helps to receive a report detailing the project’s progress, cost, and risk management plans. While council’s vanity seems set on the prettier option, the report — due March 15 — could tip the scales in favour of concrete and steel over chrome and glass. With an ongoing recession, the city’s $467 million infrastructure deficit, and a rich history of private companies vastly underestimating the cost of public projects, it’s a good bet taxpayers are willing to make a change. M

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