City has little to show for $5-million payout

Last Thursday afternoon, Nov. 1, bidding closed for the contract to break ground on the new Johnson Street Bridge.

Last Thursday afternoon, Nov. 1, bidding closed for the contract to break ground on the new Johnson Street Bridge. Proving once again that no milestone in this project can pass without controversy, local journalist and director of johnsonstreetbridge.org Ross Crockford set about tearing apart the job description for the soon-to-be-announced construction team.

One of Crockford’s main criticisms of the procurement process has been the city’s decision to allow prospective contractors to assume “technical design responsibility for the complete project,” which he says could result in a radically different bridge than the one taxpayers voted for in 2010.

While Crockford and others have speculated on the potential for public backlash should our long-awaited Signature Bridge become a little more modest, no one seems to have considered the consequences for the City of Victoria’s relationship with consultant MMM Group should the original design fail to become a reality.

In its initial proposal to the city, MMM promised to “Achieve best value for money, including life cycle costs for the completed project” in providing “an architecturally-significant or iconic superstructure that … is within the $63m total project budget” by March 31, 2011. Over a year past that deadline and after paying MMM Group and boutique architect Wilkinson Eyre a total of $5,185,636.47, we have yet to see anything but a few concept sketches and an incomplete design, which, if the critics are correct, could be nothing more than fantasy.

In case this isn’t enough to worry already strapped taxpayers, an internal memo from the city’s finance department dated Jan. 12, 2012 noted that “there are discussions underway to potentially expand the role of the MMM Group [in the JSB project].” The city confirmed this week that it is now in the process of signing a new agreement with MMM, the details of which are not currently available.

As of today, the city has paid MMM Group and Wilkinson Eyre over $5.1 million, while the consultants have consistently failed to deliver a finished product. Why, then, is the city entering into a new contract instead of demanding that MMM go back to the drawing board and come up with a practical design that meets the original criteria? Until the city can answer that question, pundits and taxpayers alike will be justified in their mistrust. M

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