Bridge’s design is untested, unproven

After a brief hiatus, the protracted comedy of errors that is the Johnson Street Bridge replacement project is back in the public eye

After a brief hiatus following last year’s referendum, the protracted comedy of errors that is the Johnson Street Bridge replacement project has crept back into the public eye. As arguments from the opposition camp shift their focus from the emotional appeal of heritage to the cold, hard reality of value-for-money, and support for the now $93-million bridge dwindles in the face of skyrocketing costs and ever-changing design specs, it seems appropriate to take a look at the history of this project and ask ourselves: Where did it all go wrong?

From the start, the city has refused to consider a simple design for the new bridge, opting instead for an “architecturally significant and iconic” design. Presumably meant to appease those members of the public incensed by the loss of local heritage, this commitment to form over function has helped ensure that recent estimated costs far surpass the cheap-and-dirty approach initially outlined in 2009.

The aesthetic approach — which has already sacrificed rail capability, pedestrian paths and six meters of bridge span in order to cover costs — also means that the city’s consultant, MMM Group, is tasked with designing and building an untested bridge entirely from scratch rather than being allowed to start from a proven model.

The latter point is driven home by the fact that, despite stating twice in its initial proposal that “MMM has managed and designed of [sic] more than 12 movable bridges”, the company doesn’t cite a single instance where it was left in charge of a project the size and difficulty of the JSB replacement.

While individual staff at MMM have worked on portions of 12 movable bridge projects, the consultant’s inexperience means a good chunk of the city’s budget is paying them to learn on the job.

In fact, the only good news that does arise is when another level of government agrees to sink additional millions into a project that’s threatening to engulf not only a significant amount of taxpayer dollars, but arguably a political career or two before all is said and done.

The City of Victoria would do well to pause from the fevered pace of this project for a moment of introspection while it still has time to start digging upwards. M

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