Blue Bridge Course of Action
Since the completion of the January 4th counter-petition campaign, and the January 7th council meeting – with the motion to seek costs and options for bridge repair – Councillor Young has received questions and comments, which resulted in a ‘common reply’ last week.
It is a credit to Geoff Young that once again he has agreed to publication.
City of Victoria Council meets on Thursday February 18th to receive a report from staff, and discuss how to move forward with the Johnson Street Bridge repair/replacement.
Reply to public inquiries from Geoff Young
I expect council will be deciding on a course of action on the Blue Bridge shortly. Here is what I expect to be saying:
Our citizens will have high expectations for the process Council uses to listen to them on this issue. I think the Council should use this project as a practical test of the various public engagement methods we are now studying, so that when we do go to referendum the public will be confident that they have had ample opportunity both to be informed about the options available and to present their own views.
Information we need
To be able to engage the public on this issue the City needs to have reliable information on the costs of all of the available options in terms of both construction costs and bridge closures. The options should include
●Meet life safety requirements with seismic upgrade, carry out repairs needed to keep the bridge safe and extend its lifetime to the medium term.
● Meet life safety requirements, upgrade where justifiable in the long term, and add some service improvements, probably extra pedestrian/bike capacity
The costs of the options should be presented both in dollars and in terms of closures and loss of service during construction.
I am not suggesting that we attempt to put a dollar cost on closures (a difficult task) but that we outline very precisely when each component of the bridge would be closed (hours of day for partial closures, number of days for full closures) so that affected commuters and business owners can make their own judgements about impacts.
This applies to the new bridge option as well as refurbishment, since the new bridge will also involve some closures. For example, the railway bridge will be removed to build the new bridge so there will be a loss of rail use and some pedestrian/bike use for some period of time, and the major road work on the west side of the bridge may require some closures.
It may be that loss-of-use costs and construction costs will have to be weighed against each other. For example, if the lowest cost option were to involve removing the spans one at a time to refurbish them offsite, this might mean greater loss of motor vehicle use than a more expensive option with only night time closures – these should be treated as separate options.
The minimum-cost option should include study of changing service levels by re-purposing part of the bridge space. These options might include devoting a traffic lane to bicycles/pedestrians or working out a better way to share space between trains and bicycle/pedestrian use.
To assist with our grant requests costs should be broken down between vehicle, rail and bicycle/pedestrian trail components. This has already been done for the new bridge, which is a single span, and can clearly be done for the refurbishment option since the spans are separate.
I do not believe the present use of the E&N rail corridor entering the City, as foreseen in the new bridge plan, is supportable in the long term. Most of us would like to see the E&N corridor used for commuter rail that would be an integral part of the region’s transportation system. However, the station location proposed for the new bridge is just as unsatisfactory as the current location – it is too far from the main north-south transportation routes to encourage heavy use. The current rail alignment, however, lends itself to extension up Pandora Street, with public land available near City Hall for a terminus. The alignment possible with the new bridge may not work out as well. We should explore where the line will go if it is successful.
If, on the other hand, it is determined that meaningful commuter rail will prove impossible to achieve over then next two or three decades then many people have suggested that a tourist or excursion type service could be operated from the west side of the bridge, leaving the rail span free for pedestrian/bike use.
Who should carry out the studies?
Expertise in new bridge design may be found in different firms than expertise in refurbishment. However, cost estimates need to be comparable, and so we may want a single quantity surveyor to make sure that in comparing options the same values are used for the various cost elements (labour, overtime, steel, concrete etc.) as well as for cost escalation, interest during construction, contingency allowances and so forth.
It goes without saying that a firm should not be placed in a conflict of interest – that is, a firm that stands to benefit more from one option than the other (e.g. a firm with particular expertise in only new bridge construction, or only refurbishment, or one already selected to carry out work for one of the options) should not be asked to evaluate a “competing” option.