Friday, February 5, 2010

Posting replies on the Johnson St. Bridge

More bridge discussion has been posted in the replies to comments on a previous post. It goes to some of the issues around cost and safety.

We are doing more work on refurbishment options, which should give more pause to those concerned about the costs of any project. While those who are concerned only with preservation, the costs will be largely irrelevant, but for citizens concerned about the costs, the escalating tab for refurbishment will be instructive. Various approaches are being considered, and different changes to the scope of work assessed to address the very real challenges of fixing a bridge that should be retired. Council will be presented with some of those costs soon.

In the meantime, people are taking some issue with my using my wife (Suzan) as an example of for whom I must provide a bridge for. She uses the bridge twice a day and for anyone else who is a regular traveler on the bridge, I am sure that you will want it as safe as possible.

Our duty as councillors is to make sure that, given the condition of the bridge, we do the most complete project to ensure that it is not only functional but that it is built to withstand an earthquake to the extent possible. We are the most seismically vulnerable city in Canada and that dictates a high standard. For me, protecting the life of our citizens is paramount, and we must upgrade to the highest standards.


  1. Wow, even before city staff have presented all the answers to the next set of the council's questions you are still just as committed to blinkering yourself to the possibility of refurbishment being either the cheaper or better option compared to your obviously favoured choice of replacement. How are citizens to take your efforts seriously when people like Mike Lai continue to insist publicly that the current bridge would have to be removed to be painted when every bridge engineer I and other people have spoken to thinks the idea preposterous? If you are privy to important information about the folly of refurbishing the bridge please publish it. Just make sure that it is written by a qualified engineer.

    You also really must try and back up your assertions with links to your sources. In which study is it stated that Victoria is the most seismically vulnerable city in Canada? Why are we more vulnerable than Nanaimo or Vancouver? What exactly do you mean by more vulnerable? Are our buildings more likely to take damage or are you saying that earthquakes are more likely here?

    Here is an interesting statement about the number of fatalities in all the earthquakes that have occured in Canada during recorded history that I can link to a reputable source:

    "No casualities were ever directly related to Canadian earthquakes. In fact, Canadian earthquakes have never caused the collapse of a building. Only some injuries were caused by the fall of objects.
    Although it has been reported that a young girl was killed during the 1732 Montreal earthquake, it has never been substanciated by independent sources.
    In Canada, the only loss of life related to an earthquake, although indirectly, were those caused by the tsunami created by the 1929 Grand Banks earthquake."

    Here's the link to the Government of Canada web-site:

    So tell me again why it is so important to safeguard a bridge that you and your wife spend no more than 40 seconds a day. Wouldn't the money be better spent elsewhere if your primary concern is the preservation of life in a seismic event?

  2. The Delcan report confirms that the city is the most seismically vulnerable in Canada. Our buildings are no more, or less, vulnerable than in other cities, it's just that we are more exposed because of our location along a major fault, but I'm sure you knew that.

    Our seismic program will replicate work done by the province on their own bridges, which will be critical transportation links in the event of an earthquake or other disaster.

    We continue to assess and retrofit infrastructure we own, provide financial incentives for the private sector to upgrade their assets and are confident that other levels of government take their responsiblities as seriously.

    With respect to my continued support of replacement, I am satisfied that the information we have been provided indicates that it is the most financially prudent choice. It also makes much more sense for other reasons including land use and transportation planning.

    Those issues may not be relevant to your preoccupation, but they are relevant to our decision.

    Taking the bridge away for repainting is not necessary, just more efficient and cost effective. Rebuilding the piers will also be better facilitated by moving the superstructure off site.

    The decision to replace is a choice of council based on the assessment and advice of professional engineers employed by the city or contracted as consultants who have had the opportunity to examine the bridge directly and assess its conditions. It is not solely based on its structural integrity but on other issues, many of which are canvassed on my website at

  3. Does this mean that you are conceding the point that there is no merit to your assertion about requiring the highest standard of seismic integrity in order to prevent fatalities on the bridge directly resulting from an earthquake? You cannot compare bridges that have collapsed due to material failure or poor design to ones that are vulnerable to earthquakes. As the Delcan reports states, the JSB is currently safe and a good candidate for repair and seimic upgrading.

    Considering the fact that refurbishment will also now benefit from the same one third financial backing from the federal government and will also most likely get CRD buy in, the only thing that I can see that is driving up the perceived cost of refurbishing the existing bridge is your seismic fearmongering and, as you put it, your "amateur" legal opinions on municipal liability.

    With respect to the contents of Are they sanctioned by the City of Victoria's communication department and within the boundaries set out by their Engagement Strategy?

    Is it really a good idea to present your "amateur" opinions on the same issues that you should be consulting the city's qualified staff on and presenting them through the official channels of the city?

  4. Thanks again Brian.

    Victoria is in an active earthquake zone. The merit of seismic upgrades should be self-evident, unless of course, it doesn't square with your agenda.

    The examples of bridge failure are valid. They illustrate what happens what happens when bridges collapse. The cause is irrelevant.

    There is nothing in a refurbishment project that qualifies for CRD support under their current mandate. The new bridge does have elements that are more consistent with regional objectives.

    Councillors are free to do their own research and express their own opinions.

    Evidently I can't win on this one. If my communications were written or otherwise vetted by the city, I am sure I would be accused of "spin". Surely you wouldn't suggest that Geoff Young, whose contrary opinions have been well covered in the media, should have his comments pre-approved by the mayor's office?

  5. I think the argument that the bridge should be a priority for replacement because on an earthquake is one that does not make sense, there are better arguments for replacement.

    I accept that the bridge is under risk in the coming seismic event, but from a risk analysis perspective it strikes me as a very low risk to human life. The number of people on the bridge at any given time is low and they are on the bridge for a short time. The risk of death is very, very low as they are in motion . In any case the bridge is not of primary importance in the event of an earthquake. Victoria emergency services are set up to use the Point Ellice Bridge and not the Johnson Street Bridge. If one were to think about seismic events and a bridge, one should consider upgrading the Point Ellice bridge to one that could take on a huge earthquake like a M8.5 one.

    The city carries a much higher seismic liability from the parkades, City Hall and Crystal Pool. All of which were constructed before the current knowledge of how to mitigate damage in an earthquake.

    A M7.3 earthquake, like the one on the Island on April 1 1946, in Victoria means we will see significant loss of life. The biggest earthquake risk in Victoria is the old town, especially some of the Kramer buildings, but most of the 19th century buildings will at minimum shed bricks onto the streets and sidewalks and many of them are likely to collapse.

  6. Bridges are critical infrastructure when earthquakes hit.

    The Johson St. bridge is not identified as an emergency route because it is vulnerable, not because engineering and our emergency services believe they don't need it. They very much want a safer crossing to provide the redundancy necessary to ensuring an effective response strategy in the event of any disaster and a usable link during recovery.

    The city is working on plans to upgrade and protect our own infrastructure and, with respect to old town, partners with the private sector through tax releif programs to protect vulnerable heritage buildings.

    Funding and borrowing available for the bridge is from sources that cannot be applied to other projects and it would be irresponsible not to move on the opportunity to address this critical deficiency in our asset portfolio.

    The immediate need is driven as much by the obsolete mechanical and electrical system, which must be replaced within two years. It is not fiscally prudent to fix those systems on a bridge we plan on replacing, or, if we are forced to refurbish, ignoring the need to concentrate a complete works pacakge within a single contract and timeframe to minimize disruptions and take advantage of cost efficiencies.

    It's like spending money to paint your house while the foundation is rotting beneath you.

  7. Coming late to the discussion here, but as both a taxpayer and engineering project manager, I have a few comments.

    1) Regarding the potential cost escalations, new build projects can just as easily suffer from cost escalation. While the challenges are different, the risk is not necessarily greater with a restoration, especially when managed effectively.

    2) Regarding the seismic vulnerability of the current JSB, I would like to see an emergency plan which would make use of it in the case of an earthquake disaster. Given the location of current fire, ambulance and police, transit to the other side of the gorge would be far more effective following the Bay St. corridor, from either side. In what scenario would moving across the JSB itself be more efficient? Given that the Pt. Ellice bridge already has critical infrastructure (gas, water, electrical, communication), it makes far more sense to upgrade Pt. Ellice to 8.5 in a separate project than it does to ensure that the JSB, (which would not be the logical emergency services route to any location on either side) can withstand a major earthquake.

    3) Just as a side note, as the Delcan report pointed out, the bridge as-is can be expected to withstand an "earthquake with a probability of exceedance of 35% in 50 years". The Delcan report outlines a number of options for seismic improvement of the existing structure. It's worth noting that designating the bridge as a emergency vehicle rather than lifeline route does not mean that the bridge will necessarily collapse completely in the event of a major earthquake.