JOHNSON STREET BRIDGE

Below are comments about one of the major capital projects facing Victoria, the Johnson Street bridge.  These were written some time ago, when the bridge decisions were still before us.  At that time, I was still fighting hard to ensure that the option of repairing and upgrading for earthquake safety the existing bridge was given a full and fair evaluation (I was a minority of one on this issue until the 2011 election).  I do not believe that was ever done.

At this time, we are fully committed to then new bridge and my only interest is to see the bridge completed in the most economical way possible, consistent with quality. 

The Johnson Street Bridge

I wrote this letter about March 25, 2012 in response to letters I had received.  It outlines my thinking at that time.

Re: Blue Bridge

Thank you for your recent e-mail on the subject of the Johnson Street bridge. I have received quite a number of letters on the subject and am therefore sending a common reply.

For many months I have been suggesting it would be worthwhile to spend money and effort to examine the option of refurbishing the existing bridge. The Mayor and majority of the City Council feel that the decision has already been made to replace the bridge, and that there is no particular point in examining new ideas that have been brought forward since we made a decision to proceed last April (at that time, of course, the availability of federal grants gave a need for haste).

The “Alternative Approval Process” for the bridge borrowing has left it up to citizens to oppose the borrowing bylaw. Not only has the City not proceeded with examining the options for refurbishing the bridge, the City is not choosing to make real efforts to provide more information about all of the possible options. I am disappointed that the City has focussed on presenting only one side of the issue, and thus I find the information that has come from the City to be incomplete and somewhat misleading. For example, the City has distributed a fact sheet entitled “Johnson Street Bridge by the Numbers”, comparing the “Replace” and “Refurbish” options in 13 ways – I don’t find that most of the statements represent a full explanation of the facts (see below).

Unfortunately the decision about the Johnson Street Bridge has now sadly reached the stage of an unequal debate between those who want a new bridge and those who want to preserve the existing bridge, or consider it more economical to do so. If the counter- petition process succeeds, I hope the majority of the Council will decide to take a real look at the options. As I have pointed out before, there are many questions that we should be asking about refurbishment, such as:

1. Are there alternate approaches to repair that could be cheaper?

2. What is the cost of refurbishing the bridge to maintain life safety in an earthquake, versus maintaining bridge operability?

3. Can the lattice beams be strengthened (if this is actually required) in a way that does not lose the aesthetic effect of the riveted beams?

4. Are there options available for revising the approaches to the existing bridge to achieve traffic improvements?

5. How much would vehicle traffic be slowed if we dedicated the third vehicle lane for bike trail traffic?

Thanks for taking the time to write.

Geoff Young

 

This was written around summer of 2010, before the referendum.

After a hiatus of a few months the Blue Bridge is about to emerge again as an active issue. In May the results of a survey of citizens were presented to Council. The results were as expected – the cost of a replacement, or alternatively the cost and effectiveness of repairs, are what people are most concerned about. People are aware that the condition of the bridge is an issue that must be addressed fairly quickly, but do not consider the bridge to be the most important issue facing the City.

The basic conclusion is that our public is generally well informed about the issue. Some people have made up their minds because of the heritage value of the old bridge (or alternatively because they would like to see a new bridge). However, most are interested in seeing more technical analysis of the costs of the options, including the cost of traffic delays and interruption, and the durability of any fixes.

All in all, the survey results were not surprising to me, since the concerns of respondents were about the same as those I have had. To me, the more important step is the next report by our engineering consultants that will give us more information on the technical aspects and cost of the options. This should be available by the time you read this.

New information will certainly not end the controversy. For example, Some Councillors may want to insist that any new option maintain the existing traffic lanes (one inbound to downtown and two outbound) and add pedestrian/bike lanes. Insisting on this standard of service will almost certainly make refurbishment uneconomic, since it will add the costs of a new pedestrian /bicycle span to the costs of repair. The most economical option, which might be to repair and then transfer one vehicle lane to bike/pedestrian use, may be ruled out of consideration.

It does seem clear that there will be a referendum in the fall, asking for a yes/no response to a question about whether you are willing to have the city borrow to pay for whichever option Council considers to be best.

 

 

These comments on the Johnson Street bridge are from March 2012.  These are questions I was asking in order to develop an alternate approach that I believe would have been preferable.  I have edited them for length.

It seems possible that even if we go with the safer Option 2 [make the plans that we have to date available, and allow bidders to bid either on those plans or on their own plans, providing the same standard of service (width of lanes etc.) and allowing a bidder selecting the MMM design to elect to work with MMM to complete the design or not, as they saw fit] there remains a possibility that the cost of the final bids plus whatever work the City must complete will exceed the budget we have set aside. In this case it seems to me that we will have to reconsider the option of refurbishing the existing bridge to a modest seismic standard (not the lifeline standard) and a modest expected lifetime, building a separate bike/pedestrian bridge, and upgrading the Bay street bridge to a high seismic standard.

1. Is the following quotation attributed to Mr. Meyboom accurate? “The correct number there is to look at Delcan’s final report,” which pegged rehab and a partial seismic upgrade at $23.6 million. How, then, did rehab go up to $80 million? The scope of the project was different, Meyboom said. The earlier estimates were for a shorter life expectancy; the City then asked him to come up with a “100-year” rehab plan to do an “apples to apples” comparison with a new bridge.

2. How do the costs of rehabilitation break down between the rail and highway spans? That is, given that we will be refurbishing only the highway span, how much lower will will the cost be?

3. The following is from an MMM report: “In the early years of the bridge’ life, it was subjected to a mix of railway, streetcar and truck loads. The original 1921 plans indicate it was designed for three design live loads. The first was a Cooper E50 railway loading, (down the center of the bridge); the second for 45 ton streetcars, (a track on either side of the rail track); and the third was a 25 ton highway truck. The tracks for the railway and streetcar were likely removed at the time the open steel grating was installed in 1966. ….it should be noted, that the mass of a Cooper E50 railway loading, (two locomotives without the trailing cars), of 3,160 kN is considerably higher than the current BCL-625 design truck which is only 625 kN.” Does this mean that the highway bridge would be capable of providing commuter rail service in the future if properly refurbished? How about streetcar service? I gather kiloNewtons are a measure of force, not weight, so I cannot compare, but a locomotive of that era would weigh something in the order of 80 or 90 tons, somewhat lighter than today’s.

4. An MMM report discussed the problems of placing a new bike/pedestrian trail bridge next to the refurbished spans. I assume no work has been done on the possibility of placing such a bridge beside the single remaining highway span, upgraded to modest seismic standards.

5. [A question for new councillors] Should we also reconsider the option of removing one of the westbound lanes on the car span to create two new bicycle lanes? I would support this even if only for the construction period of the next 4 years, but if we have to consider “Plan B” then we will want to know. The previous council refused to attempt such an experiment, even though it would take a few weeks to conduct, and cost relatively little to arrange. The previous council thought such a lane reduction would result in chaos – “even though, as we’ve pointed out, the Johnson Street Bridge’s one eastbound lane already carries the same daily volume of traffic as the two lanes headed west, and a similar volume of traffic currently uses the two-lane Bay Street Bridge. “The numbers suggest that the Blue Bridge can handle two lanes of traffic. But there’s one way to find out for sure. Only a real trial will conclusively prove whether or not a lane reduction will work.” [Quotes from johnsonstreetbridge.org]

 

The following appeared about November 2012 in the Moss Rocks Review.

As I write this we are expecting the three selected bidders for the Johnson Street bridge replacement to submit their bids. That will not be the end of the process, however, because the bids are not likely to be easily comparable – it is not a question of simply accepting the lowest bid. All of the proponents are permitted to suggest changes to the construction of the bridge, within the limits of what was approved by the voters in the borrowing referendum, and it may take as much as a few weeks for the City’s engineers to evaluate whether these proposed changes are desirable.

Some of us on council think in retrospect that it might have been preferable to be less prescriptive about the design for the bridge. The design was selected by council on the advice of a citizen advisory committee (which recommended a different design from that selected by the majority of citizens who “voted” in the opinion poll among three designs). Will the chosen design more expensive to build than a simple design? than the design favoured by most voters? We may never know, just as we may never know whether it would have been cheaper and better to repair the old bridge instead of building a new one at all, but over the next few weeks we will at least find out whether the chosen design can be built within the budget voted by the taxpayers. I have to assume it can be, but if it cannot we will certainly face some tough decisions in deciding on a “Plan B.”