Friday, November 9, 2012

Blue Bridge Critics Falling Down, Falling Down . . .

Above:  Geotechnical work for the new Johnson St. Bridge was underway in October of 2012 as city staff worked through competing bids for the construction project that will start soon.  Rumours of the imminent demise of the project are unfounded.

Op-eds in the Victoria Times Colonist have played out some of the tit-for-tat around Victoria's Johnson St. Bridge project.  Suffice to say the latest piece, similar to other agenda driven commentary, makes scant use of the facts.  The Request for Proposals process is now complete and technical evaluations are taking place that will inform a recommendation to Victoria City Council which, myths notwithstanding, will make the final decision on the award of a construction contract.

Here, for your reading pleasure (or otherwise), are some rejoinders to the last op-ed on process and product.


The process has always had flexibility for numbers of tasks and business negotiations, but always understood has been the completion dates for partnership funding and the construction schedule afforded by fisheries windows.   Extensions have been sought by proponents, all three of whom remain interested in winning the project, hardly indicative of a desperate for a deal scenario.  Budget limits are understood, whatever the contract language, and that is shaped by specialized legal counsel rather than any direction aimed at fleecing taxpayers.  Project elements, particularly specific scope changes that add new responsibilities and associated costs have been presented to council, in open forum, and endorsed by majority votes.

At the outset of the bridge decision process, Ross Crockford was concerned that the process was moving forward too quickly.  What’s changed?

Detailed design and construction optimization have always been in the hands of the successful bidders, just as indicative design is, and remains, under the direction of the city’s consulting engineers at the MMM group.  They’re responsibility is to ensure delivery of the bridge as proposed to council and Victorian’s in the successful funding referendum.  Evaluations of optimization strategies or details of design will be conducted, as they should be, by expert engineering staff and consultants who are responsible to council and the public to ensure that the bridge delivers on the fundamentals of design and function outlined during the referendum.

Recommendations will be forwarded to council, where decisions will be made.  Councillors will no doubt have access to information, in confidence, to protect proprietary business interests, as they would with any project in Victoria, or any other jurisdiction receiving multiple, competitive bids for any contract or project.  The awarding of the contract will ultimately be at the discretion of council, and reported on at public committee and council meetings.

The inference that this approach to decision making on proposals submitted to the city is unique to Victoria or to this project is not credible.


The fundamentals of the bridge are sound and the storyline that continues to be promoted of an untested design unfounded.  The technology is well understood and refinements will be proposed to ensure functionality for a unique bridge, as it would be for any bridge project.  There are few bridges anywhere that are not sensitive to their setting, context and unique construction challenges.  The single leaf bascule at this location is an appropriate solution.  Securing the deck mid-span is a less optimum design than a resting span on one side for good engineering reasons, whatever the traffic above.

The save the bridge campaign pressed by Mr. Crockford has sought to preserve a single span structure, making his claims on this issue less credible, if not hypocritical.

New comparisons

Comparisons have been made with a Miami project, another strategy that failed on so many indicators in the promotion of the “No” vote during the referendum campaign.  Like the many bridges that were offered up during the counter petition and referendum campaigns, this new example similarly fails to provide a credible comparison.  Critics will find what they like and leave out the facts that don't support the storyline.

Miami is at the very low end of earthquake risks and codes will be significantly different.  The seismic resilience of our own bridge is at the highest end and the cost differential for our project is only the incremental difference between our lifeline bridge designed to withstand an earthquake at an 8.5 magnitude (to offer to most commonly understood reference), over a less robust 6.5 event, quite different from a concept of bringing a bridge with no seismic resilience to even a modest, if not full code compliant structure.  The city settled on the maximum code available to meet a variety of objectives.  The cost comparisons on that element of the project are not credible.

Cost comparisons are, in any event, out of date.  The Canadian dollar was 5 cents below the U.S. dollar at the time of completion of the Miami project and inflation would also have to be accounted for.  Florida is also a “right-to-work” state where wages are suppressed by legislative construct, reducing some input costs, but also exposing users of this particular procurement model to risk factors associated with higher injury and fatality rates, as well as questionable quality and timeliness of project delivery.

The Miami project also excludes numbers of other features and incorporated numbers of other projects that were added, and endorsed, for the new Johnson St. Bridge project.  They include road-works on approaches, particularly on the west side where road design has been found to generate an accident profile; elements of a harbour pathway project that will link to the bridge and other networks for cycling and walking; a separate bridge and trail piece to connect the new E&N rail with trail with the Galloping Goose and a terminus for both trails; as well as public art, bumpers to protect against vessel traffic, movement of a secure data line and other unique elements to our project..  None of these are provided in the “accounting” comparisons made between Victoria’s project and Crockford’s latest example.

Free association

While Mr. Crockford characterizes the city as “desperate” for a deal, it seems Victoria is more likely in the driver’s seat.  With three competitive bidders all eager to win this project, the city is not facing the prospect of relying on a single bidder who can dictate price.  The suggestions that city council will act as a “rubber stamp” can’t be taken seriously.  Final decisions on contracts always rest with council, and with this project in particular, there have often been divergent opinions on the choices before both the current and previous council.  Ross Crockford likes to characterize any decision with which he and his media sponsors disagree as a “rubber stamp” decision.  Far from pushing on with a project on the wrong track, the bridge is moving forward as intended, as endorsed by the council that made the choice in the first place, confirmed by a majority of new councillors and proceeding to meet the timeframes set in place to meet the important constraints for fisheries windows and funding partnerships. 

No amount of hand-wringing or story-telling in support of a failed agenda will change the facts.  It was a sound decision, made by those charged with making that choice, to choose a new bridge over the too good to be true fairy tales of a rescue and refurbishment project.   Bids have closed and a contract will be awarded soon.  Watch for more visible signs of the project to start appearing in the harbour and on the landscape around the bridge project.  Crockford, no doubt, will continue to tilt at windmills.