Bridging the Divide: A timeline of the Johnson Street Bridge project

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WATCH: The new Johnson Street Bridge has been billed as the largest capital project in Victoria’s history. Ceilidh Millar reports. 

To pay for a new Johnson Street Bridge instead of repair the old one was a controversial decision that left a community divided since the moment the project took off in December 2007.

“The city hired a company to do a condition assessment of the old bridge,” said journalist and historian Rock Crockford. “They wanted to see what sort of shape it was in and what work needed to be done on it.”

It would take more than a year for the report by Delcan to make it to Victoria City Council.

The estimated cost to repair the almost century-old bridge was initially pegged at nearly $30 million.

The report concluded a replacement bridge would come with a price tag of $63 million.

“[The report] said the repair would last for about 40 years, whereas a new bridge would last for 100 years,” Crockford explained. “So that’s why city council, at the time, decided to spend more money on a brand new bridge that would theoretically last longer.”

Victoria City Coun. Geoff Young was in favour of exploring the repair option.

“I thought there were some real advantages to repairing the old bridge,” Geoff said. “I felt we didn’t really examine them carefully.”

His view was reflected by the nearly 10,000 residents who signed a counter-petition in January 2010, led by Crockford, which would ultimately force the city to hold a referendum.

“Then [the city] went out and got the engineering companies to do more detailed estimates of how much the project would cost,” Crockford said.

In June 2010, city council received an updated engineering study from MMM Group, now putting repair cost at $80 million and replacement costs at $89 million.

Despite the ballooning costs, council voted to proceed with building a new bridge on August 12, 2010.

A few months later, the referendum was passed, giving the city permission to borrow up to $49.2 million towards the project.

“Sixty per cent of the voters said they wanted a new bridge,” Geoff explained. “The people made a decision. Some of them, I think, might have voted differently if they’d known the true cost.”

Those true costs wouldn’t be known until December 2012, when the bridge construction contract was awarded to PCL Constructors Westcoast for $92.8 million

Almost seven years since the process began, construction on the new bridge was underway in May 2013.

However, there were hiccups along the way including a batch of steel for the bridge that had to be replaced.

“It’s been a long saga,” Crockford said. “Far longer than I or anyone anticipated.”

The bridge cost is now at $105 million.

Almost a decade since it all began, the bridge will officially be complete this Saturday when it opens to the public.

 

Ceilidh MillarCeilidh Millar

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