A few weeks back, Victoria council shot down a motion to alter the course of the Johnson St. Bridge replacement project. The proposal would have seen the city reject the futuristic chrome and glass of the current plan in favour of a more modest and presumably less expensive option. Immediately after rejecting that opportunity, council commissioned a report on the status of the bridge replacement, including a detailed and updated budget.
Council received the report last week. The result? A massive cost increase and a well-deserved “I told you so” from the three councillors who voted for the previous week’s proposal. Despite costs having skyrocketed $15.8 million to rest at a cool $92.8 million before construction has even begun, staff recommended that the city continue with the project as it is now, citing a recent boost in funding from the Union of B.C. Municipalities, which just manages to cover the increase in expenses.
Councillor Lisa Helps was not so easily swayed. “The question that no one is asking,” she said, “is what happens and who pays if the project goes over budget?” On her website, Helps links to a report from Denmark that says the average cost overrun of public infrastructure projects is 34 per cent of the original estimate. She goes on to calculate the tax impact on Victoria residents in the event of 15, 30, or 50 per cent overruns, coming up with a very likely tax increase of anywhere from 4.5 to 14.9 per cent each year for three years. In short, while the city can afford the current estimate, any future increases mean we’re stuck searching the couch cushions.
The other question that no one seems to be asking is how things got to where they are now. While the original cause of all this mayhem — the 2009 Delcan Report — is fading fast from our collective memory, the $35 million it quoted for replacing the ailing Blue Bridge should be at the forefront of public debate.
No matter how you look at it, the Johnson St. Bridge replacement seems to be more cloud than silver lining. With three years and over $10 million already invested, even if the city opts for frugality, the dream of a $35-million bridge will never be realized, which leaves taxpayers with no other option than to open their wallets and marvel at the clarity of hindsight. M