Saturday, January 16, 2010

Answers to your comments

I've been getting comments back on the bridge discussion and here are some answers to some issues raised.

Seismic work - yes or no?

To the issue of what is important to seismically upgrade, the bridge is one of the most important pieces of infrastructure that is clearly in the city's care. The exposure of people the bridge versus buildings, it has been suggested, makes it less of a priority.

That's simply not a satisfactory response to the city's duty of care when assessing the condition of infrastructure and the consequent obligation to address known deficiencies and hazards. The legal consequences for the city where negligence is demonstrated may be much more expensive than the capital projects contemplated. If that negligence is willful or deliberate, councillors can be held personally responsible.

The bridge is in operation 24 hours a day, so the exposure is more constant than with other buildings. The collapse of the Point Ellice Bridge in 1896 is also instructive. 56 people died because a streetcar was in transit when the tragedy occured. The Johnson St. Bridge carries numbers of bus routes, which may also be full in peak hours.

Other city buildings have had some work done and other work is being planned to mitigate hazards or provide seismic upgrades. City hall, for example, has had several phased projects to reinforce the western addition and doorways, and the third floor has been emptied of heavy archives pending further seismic work. Public buildings that are the responsibility of other levels of government, like schools, are their projects and many have been upgraded.

The city has also foregone millions in tax revenue over numbers of years through heritage tax holidays to support upgrades to buildings downtown. The tax holidays are quite pointedly aimed at making seismic work financially feasible and occupancy is not permitted above a certain floor level on some older buildings until that work is complete.

Bridges are high on the priority list for protection from any hazard threat because the aftermath of disasters requires deployment of resources like emergency services and heavy equipment to address life and safety issues or to facilitate clean up and rebuilding after damage.

The other issue of economic dislocation is also critical. After life and safety issues are addressed, rebuilding and restarting the city's economy will be critical to our viability and vitality. While not all of the potential impacts are necessarily the city's direct responsibility, the failure of downtown or other affected businesses affects us all. Failed businesses don't pay their taxes. The consequence of ignoring the bridge deficiencies exposes the city to possible several years of economic impacts.

The Loma Prieta earthquake in California in 1989 was a case study in earthquake preparedness and mitigation. Post disaster research indicated that investing in seismic upgrades and mitigation had net positive benefits measured in socioeconomic impacts.

Whether refurbishment or replacement, full seismic upgrading is not an optional element for the city.

Cherry picking costs

I did not write that refurbishment (in the Delcan report), was pegged at $35 million. Check back on that section and you will see that this number refers to replacement. That is comparing "apples to apples". This much lower figure, like the Delcan estimate for refurbishment, is a "Class D" estimate" and is valid at a conceptual level, for order of magnitude costs, and is in 2008 dollars. Subsequent work on more detailed replacement costs elevated the price to establish costs at a higher level of confidence. Likewise, a more detailed estimate of costs for refurbishment ups those costs to a more current number of $35 million,.

Replacement costs have a higher level of confidence because there will remain unknowns associated with refurbishment. Research on the Ashtabula Bridge in Ohio, (same vintage Strauss project) should illustrate costly and problematic challenges we may also face from hidden deficiencies.

Talking to engineers

We have asked our engineers and consultants for more information on costs and project details of works associated with either refurbishment or replacement. Our engineers are professional staff and our consultants are chosen by an independent, competitive process. Councillors are not involved in hiring staff or choosing contractors. They are chosen for their competence, and with respect to consulting engineers, it will also be necessary that they have appropriate licenses or credentials to work in Canada.

The choice of a new bridge is council's decision and neither our staff nor our consultants have an agenda for refurbishment or replacement, only recommendations based on their professional assessment and competence. The engineers brought to present the case for refurbishment are no doubt competent, but very clearly were invited to support a specific agenda.

Our consultants have also been asked specifically to assess the feasibility of some of the suggested preservations strategies provided by those engineers and our consultants are competent to do so. Work continues on some of that costing but some information has been provided specifically in letters to the preservation campaign but has thus far been dismissed.

All of the information provided by engineers and consultants is available on the city's website and presentations have been in public. The information is there, but we cannot force people to read it. Clearly some of those whose interest is in refurbishment only continue to question the information provided, but it is both thorough and sound. Engineers are governed by a code of ethics that requires them to provide accurate, unbiased information.

Bridge locked closed? Or open?
The issue of the bridge locking is not a choice of the city, but a potential failure associated with a seismic event.

Bicycle levels of service and the rail bridge
While I haven't suggested a firm figure on the potential latent demand being suppressed by the poor levels of service provided by the current bridge, experience elsewhere in North America indicates that growth in bicycle traffic (a key objective of the regional growth strategy to which we are committed), is signficant where key pinch points can be addressed and safe, separated facilities are provided. Some references to cycling traffic research is on my website at and more will be posted.

We are not welcome to rip up the rails to provide that level of service. The rail connection into downtown is embedded in our Official Community Plan, is essential to the success of the rail, and we will not sacrifice that service to address the deficiencies for traffic management objectives associated with refurbishment.


  1. Not to be too pedantic, the 1995 OCP does not restrict council from removing rail over the bridge. The OCP calls for encouragement of the retention of rights of way where possible.

    With respect to the E&N line, which is not specifically named, the OCP calls for
    "To sustain and expand the existing
    limited rail system with emphasis on
    commuter and tourist services."

    Building a better terminal on the Vic West side with decent bus service would achieve this goal.

    In the 15 years since this OCP, neither the City nor Via have done anything to increase the use of the rail service.

    The OCP also specifically excludes the E&N as a consideration for rapid transit.

    Retaining a rail bridge makes no sense if no one is interested in making use of it.

    15 years since the OCP and there is not one single developed idea to make use of the rail link over the Johnson Street bridge. How long should it be maintained if no one steps forward to make use of it?

  2. You did indeed write incorrectly on your blog that you believed the Delcan quotation to be $35M for refurbishment. Here is an exact quote of what you wrote:

    "The Delcan estimate for replacement, by the way, was $35 million, far below the current price tag of $63 million, but of course that figure includes more detail work on options for a new bridge and roadworks to take advantage of better alignment opportunities and more efficient and attractive land use, particularly on the west side. It is simply not credible for critics to continue to cherry pick the $23 million refurbishment estimate from the same assessment report to undersell the likely real cost of preservation."

    You still have not produced a written quote to back up the $35M figure. It is the one provided by the MMM group and if so why has it not been made public? If $23M turns into $35M in a year, does that mean the $63M will soon be $85M?

    I would also like you to further expand on the quote you made in your speech at the Jan 7 council meeting regarding your irrational wife's fear of using the bridge and how no amount of seismic upgrading on the current bridge would satisfy you because of it. I hope you can see how hard it is for the public to trust any of your unproven statements (just as Bernard has done above concerning the OCP) in light of the illogical conclusion of your Jan 7th speech.

    In short councillor, I must say that I am not satisfied with your replies. It would do you a lot of good if you could actually back up your arguments with some citations since you have the means to have city staff do studies and provide you with reports that will prove or disprove your assertions.

  3. Hi Brian,

    Sorry I'm slow getting to this one, but if you read the sentence again, (including your repeat of it), it says $35 million for replacement (from the Delcan report).

    That and the refurbishment estimates were both Class D estimates, for which further costing needed to be done. The more detailed costing was done for replacement and we are in progress with more work on the refuribishment option. The $35 million figure was provided in a letter to Ross Crockford and the Blue Bridge campaign folks. I'm sure if you ask them for a copy they will be able to provide it, but since it is their letter, I think it polite to defer to them on releasing the letter. The figure was shared publicly by them also.

    The problem with the Delcan estimate for refurbishment, as a Class D, is that it is incomplete, an order of magnitude assessment that is in 2008 dollars, so inflation and other costs Class D may exclude design and other soft costs) will be higher when compared with the more current and comprehensive figures for replacement.

    With respect to using my wife's situation as an illustration of the seismic issues, it is not irrational. The Delcan report indicates a likelihood of fatalities in the event of a significant earthquake. As a councillor, I am morally impelled to support the most robust seismic upgrade we can muster. The dollar savings are not worth anyone's life and regular users are obviously most at risk.

    When bridges collapse, for whatever reason, the consequences can be quite tragic - 5 dead in Montreal, 13 dead in Minneapolis, 56 died on our own Pt. Ellice Bridge in 1896 (a full trolley car was on the bridge).

    Earthquakes don't happen on convenient schedules so the possibility of an event during rush hour with a full bus on deck are quite real. Our responsibility is to ensure that our infrastructure is as safe as possible.

    My apologies if I didn't spell out sources in the first post, but I don't make statements for which that are not backed up by some factual underpinnings.