Monday, October 13, 2014

Johnson St. Bridge project, Victoria, BC

The view from here . . 

Contrary to not so popular opinion, Victoria’s Johnson St. Bridge project continues to move forward.

Construction on site is moving at a brisk pace and, despite the critics, many local elements are falling into place.  Bascule piers have been dropped in, roads realigned and underground work that should have fallen into separate budgets have also been completed on the downtown side.

To be sure, no small amount of ink has been spilled of late as elements of the project run into turbulence.  Cost and design issues are the subject of disputes between contractors, constructors and distant fabricators who have, at least, agreed to eat their costs and focus on delivering the product they were asked for.   Some asks remain unresolved, though the city remains in possession of a contract, and disagreements may be sorted out between private sector providers who can look for compensation on their side of the ledger.  The city shouldn’t have to pay for their missteps or private disputes. 

Some on council remain committed to more posturing than problem solving, and the loss of some staff midway through the project left some key controls unattended to.  Not a cause for celebration, no doubt, though most had the good sense to follow through with interim project management recommendations to right the course of the project when it became apparent that private contractors couldn’t solve issues on their own.

All in, the time contingency, at least, remains intact, and funding agreements with the federal government will be met, even with projected delays.  Do it fast or do it right – I would choose the latter.

The challenges identified by the project manager, at least for those who attended council sessions where issues were reported out, are serious enough, though none fatal to the delivery of a bridge supported by a majority of council and endorsed by democratic referendum before the last election.  The very specific comments of the city’s latest hire prescribed less panic than those who are elevating their rhetoric in the run-up to election day.

Cost dissection is a challenge for those determined to advance their own version of the math, but the reality is that nothing of new costs represents a bad investment or an easily foreseen circumstance such that finger pointers can claim out of control inflationary pressures.

Protection of a secure data line feeding info to the military was purposely left off the table until a private sector player decided that that project could proceed, as long as the city paid the freight.  Not a stretch to suggest that the risk of higher costs for damaging the line would have exceeded by far the agreement to pay for the work.  Even more problematic might have been the potential liability headaches the city could have faced if the old bridge were to collapse in an earthquake.  Damage to that line might have been a drop in the bucket in the overall scheme of things, but no doubt well in excess of city costs to move the line to accommodate the new bridge.

Extra dollars invested in protecting your investment from larger vessels now likely sailing into the shipyard after a new federal contract was awarded to various suppliers is also a good deal.  The long term business plan now emerging for Point Hope will return millions in new jobs and tax revenue never possible with the old bridge.  As the saying goes, the city should be run more like a business.  On this one, at least, the business case is about as solid as it gets.

There are those who will deliberately misrepresent scope changes as costs eating up contingencies, but that is not quite accurate.  For those on council who can do the math, choices made were deliberate adaptations to changing circumstances, not blindsides generated by mismanagement.

It’s a steep hill to climb back to the council table, as some have noted, though more are looking forward to a new bridge, and it is coming, than some of those who are convinced otherwise.

I expect that, should I be so lucky to win a seat, I’ll have the opportunity to pay more attention to the job at hand, and spend less time looking for my next career opportunity.   Always up to the task.

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