Victoria losing sight of bridge promises

What seems like eons ago, the City of Victoria asked you to “Vote Yes” and allow the municipality to borrow $49.2 million for a new bridge.

What seems like eons ago, the City of Victoria asked you, the taxpayer, to “Vote Yes” and allow the municipality to borrow $49.2 million for a new Johnson Street Bridge. After months spent battling public opinion, the city achieved majority approval for a bylaw authorizing council “to undertake and carry out or cause to be carried out works generally in accordance with the general plans on file at Victoria City Hall.”

This powerfully vague language meant that a new bridge would be built to look and function more or less like the city proposed back in September, 2010.

More than two years later, organizers of johnsonstreetbridge.org felt it necessary to remind council of its commitment to the voting public on the eve of last week’s approval of a construction contract with PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc., for a fixed-price of $63,235,000.

In an open letter, the citizen group recounted an extensive list of promises from a zero-per-cent tax impact from bridge costs (promised in 2010), to durability standards and adaptability for rail alongside a dozen other whispered nothings from JSB advertising past.

Aren’t these reminders a little redundant? After all, the public is generally assured that it will receive the bridge it was promised when the city started down this path, right?

Perhaps not.

A cover letter to the 2009 proposal by bridge consultant MMM Group indicates what the city’s general plans looked like when it states that the bridge will fall within a $63 million total project budget and would be completed by March 31, 2011. By the proposed completion date, “the nature, scope, and timing of the services to be provided by the consultant to the City,” had changed so significantly that the earlier agreement was abandoned.

Not the least of these changes was an overall cost increase to $92.8 million, a far cry from the promises that a 2010 survey indicated had convinced many to “Vote Yes.”

At one point, the future of the JSB rested on the approval of the electorate. As PCL Constructors readies itself to assume “technical design responsibility for the complete project,” it’s time to ask ourselves how much deviance the public will allow before the support given in 2010 is taken back. M

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