Infrastructure enthusiasts take note

Now that the Johnson Street Bridge is being torn apart to make way for the new one, we can spend the next years planning its opening.

Now that construction on the new Johnson Street Bridge is finally underway, we can spend the next several years planning for its official opening. This is the most exciting part of any infrastructure project. Forget about the money and the politics. The real point of doing anything in life is the party. And having attended the opening of the McTavish Road Interchange, I can absolutely affirm that we’re in for a treat when the new bridge is finally ready to open.

A giant sign on the Pat Bay Highway had been advertising the opening of the McTavish Road Interchange for weeks and it was by no coincidence that my friend Catherine and I happened to be driving along the highway the night of the “big unveil.” We were turning left onto Mt. Newton X Road when we saw two trucks with official insignia heading northward on Pat Bay. So we pulled a u-turn in the intersection and followed. The trucks were at the head of the procession, like grand marshals. It felt like both the May Day parade and the beginning of a NASCAR race: the buzz of experiencing something shiny and grandiose combined with cars jockeying for pole position.

We joined the procession. Ahead of us a jeep passed the car in front of it; a teenager swerved back and forth in his lane; a man rested his cellphone on his steering wheel to take a picture. I cranked Lady Gaga and rolled down the windows. Catherine high-fived a pedestrian running down the bike lane to keep up.

As we approached the interchange we noticed people gathered on the pedestrian walkway. They were waving and holding banners over the railing. Then the cars around us began honking. Then I began honking. I felt that pang of emotion you get when your favourite sports team wins a squeaker.

The government told us the interchange would help “reduce idling, resulting in fewer greenhouse gas emissions.” We felt good about that. Of course, the string of for sale signs on the properties bordering the highway would indicate a lesser enthusiasm.

We took the north exit. A man on the side of the road stood with a telephoto lens, frequently adjusting it for the perfect shot like a fashion photographer. I hoped he would give direction to our car: “Ride that clutch, give me some brakes now, that’s it, that’s it, you’re golden!”

Several of the cars veered north down Lochside Drive making us, thrillingly, the second vehicle to cross the overpass. When we crossed for a second time we saw another man standing in the middle of the roundabout. His hands were in the pockets of his heavy down jacket, a small thermos at his side. A once-in-a-lifetime event was happening right on his doorstep and nothing, it seemed, was going to stop him from spending all night watching it. I wondered if he was getting philosophical about the event and might go home and write a poem about it.

The overpass experience reminded me of a book by Alain de Botton called “The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work” and the chapter entitled “Transmission Engineering” in which de Botton meets a man who installs electrical pylons. This man was the founding member of the Pylon Appreciation Society, which, as de Botton puts it, “organizes walks along power lines and look(s) forward to a time when curiosity about electrical transmission would be granted a place in the pantheon of legitimate interests.”

Now I’m hooked. And I’m sure there are many others who share my “legitimate interest” in mega projects. Perhaps there’s even a Mega Project Appreciation Society that I could join, where groups of men and women post in online forums about the euphoria found in humankind’s amazing ability to fashion millions of pounds of concrete into something functional.

The most memorable part of the McTavish Road Interchange opening was the shared moment I felt with the other motorists and pedestrians. And I look forward to having that feeling again when the new bridge is completed. I can see the federal government and the city of Victoria sparing no expense for the occasion: fireworks, live bands, television coverage, local celebrities, monuments erected, public art inspired, poets dedicating words to the splendor of the bridge’s curves …

Let us not miss the opportunity to join the pantheon of legitimate interests. M

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