The two Victoria councillors who voted against inking the contract to build a new Johnson Street bridge say they aren’t convinced the $92.8-million project will come in on budget.
Victoria councillors met in closed session on New Year’s Eve and approved awarding the contract to PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc.
Only councillors Ben Isitt and Lisa Helps voted against the award.
PCL was chosen after an extensive process in which three contractors were asked to suggest “optimizations” to keep the project within the $66 million budgeted for bridge construction. The rest of the budget includes legal, project management, staff support, insurance and other costs.
As details of the contract were discussed in-camera and won’t be released until next week, both Helps and Isitt said they could not reveal specific reasons for voting against the contract. Both said their concern is not with construction of the bridge, but keeping costs down on the project as a whole.
“For me, the concerns didn’t have to do with the nature of the optimizations or the design changes. It was more a financial question and ongoing uncertainty for me over the city’s ability to contain the cost of the project, not withstanding the best efforts of staff,” Isitt said.
“Just to throw out one example. There’s known utilities that run along Wharf Street — both B.C. Hydro utilities and city utilities. So those costs have to be borne by the city and no contract would impose those costs on a contractor. But for me, there’s a lot of questions on these additional costs and the city’s ability to cover those costs.”
Helps said she, too, is worried the project may not be completed within the $92.8-million ceiling, and she’s not willing to ask residents and businesses to pay more in property taxes for the bridge than has already been committed.
“I hope I’m wrong. I hope it doesn’t cost more, but I couldn’t be certain given the information that we had,” said Helps, noting she’s not worried about the bridge construction as proposed by the contractor.
“It’s the bridge that we were going to get. It’s nothing substantially different than what we were going to get or expect.”
Ross Crockford, a director of the watchdog group johnsonstreetbridge.org, said he will be monitoring closely to see if there’s any gap between what was originally promised by the city and what is to be delivered.
Crockford said he has a number of questions including: whether the city has signed a fixed-price contract, the contract amount, what’s included in terms of landscaping, pathways and other improvements, what warranties are provided, where the bridge is being fabricated and whether there have been changes to a mechanism that will lift the bridge to allow marine traffic to pass.
“The $92.8 [million] was sort of advertised to us as the total project cost. My fear is that it is increasingly going to be the bridge-only costs and all of the other stuff is going to be extra,” he said.
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