Saturday, September 15, 2012

A week or so ago I dropped a note into the CBC's inbox and sent the same letter to our local newspaper.  It followed the news that Victoria City Council was facing signficant and costly challenges to upgrade the city's building portfolio, after seismic issues and the cost of fixes were shared at a council meeting.  The storyline suggested, incorrectly, that the last council was unaware of the issues and unprepared for the news.

Current councillors endorsed a motion to make sure consulting reports to the city were delivered and shared in a timely matter so council could consider costlier projects with the full knowledge of the pressures any new report might reveal about the city's financial challenges.  The motion and the story were founded on something of a fiction about how much was known about some of the elements of the city's infrastructure deficit, a liability councillors have known about for years.

Here's the unaired, unpublished letter I wrote in response to the flurry of news stories that followed the motion and discussion at council.

Kudos to Lisa Helps and Marianne Alto on pushing for timely release of reports to city council on the details of our infrastructure deficit.  They should know that a timely report to the last council began the discussion about the fate of the Johnson St. Bridge.

To Lisa’s question about whether or not we would have made the choice we did had we known about the costly seismic fixes needed for other city assets, the answer is yes.

Most of the cost of the bridge is unrelated to the fiction of architectural extravagance that Helps and others continue to promote.  Movable bridges are never easy and there are no off the shelf designs that can be dropped into place like a Spencer Rd. interchange. 

Even common models must be adapted to the idiosyncrasies of specific locations and extensive design work and modeling would have been required for any of the options that were considered.  The existing Blue Bridge, with its top heavy, overhead counterweight system, is not a good design for cities like Victoria, where seismic vulnerability is acute.  The engineer most experienced with our bridge told us that of the two choices Victorians had before them in 1920, they picked the wrong one.

Many Victorians, I think, would not, in any event, endorse Helps’ embrace of mediocrity in place of a more sympathetic design for a city that prides itself on presentation.

While the details of seismic issues facing numbers of city owned properties may not have been spelled out in detail, councillors past and present have been repeatedly warned about an existing and growing infrastructure deficit associated with aging infrastructure, including city building portfolios.  The bridge was at the top of the list and we chose a responsible course of action to check that project off the list and start planning for many of the other challenges Victoria faces.

It will be helpful to have timely and detailed reports on infrastructure challenges and other issues provided to council and the public, but councillors should take care to make sure not to re-shape the facts to fit their own storyline.

No comments:

Post a Comment