The City of Victoria has released details of the contract for the new Johnson Street bridge, and already councillors are wrestling with how much more information they should give out.
Councillors Ben Isitt and Geoff Young say they can’t adequately comment on the decision with only the public information — and that means taxpayers need more facts.
Council voted last week to give the contract to PCL Constructors Westcoast, the largest contracting company in Canada, which agreed to build the bridge for $63,235,000. On top of that is a contingency fund of $2.5 million to $2.7 million. That keeps the total for the bridge construction at the city’s budgeted $66 million.
The overall cost of the project is still estimated at $92.8 million.
A week after the contract decision, city staff revealed on Monday some of the work that went into tweaking the original design to save money, reduce maintenance costs and improve the bridge. It’s an impressive reminder of why engineering school has a reputation as the toughest faculty in any university.
On the fun side, the PCL engineers found a way to put back one of the most appealing features of the original proposal, a walkway that will go through the middle of the giant wheel that lifts the bridge. Pedestrians will be able to stand in the middle of the wheel while the bridge goes up or down.
More importantly to the cost of the bridge, they found ways to reduce the size and change the shape of the piers on either side of the water, so they can be built without digging into the bed of the harbour. That makes them cheaper to build and less disruptive of the marine environment. It also speeds up construction.
They simplified the trusses that will support the bridge deck and found a hydraulic system for raising the bridge, which the team says will be easier to maintain than the originally planned electrical machinery and uses “off the shelf’ equipment. Approaches to the bridge and a trail overpass will be concrete instead of steel.
According to city staff, it could be possible to trim even more money by changes to lighting, abutment walls and piles, bringing the contingency up to $4 million.
Every penny of that could be needed because the city is on the hook for some potentially costly variables. If the crews start digging and hit some geotechnical problems not flagged in the earlier studies, the city is responsible. If the digging uncovers archeological artifacts, the city is responsible. If finding enough steel becomes a problem, the city is responsible.
That’s a lot of responsibility for things outside the city’s control between the time construction starts in the summer and when the bridge opens in the fall of 2015.
And those are just the things we know about. The comments by Young and Isitt suggest there is more that could help us make informed decisions.
Council has seen how contentious this project is. From now on, the microscopes of the critics and the public will be focused even more closely on every detail.
No doubt there are commercial competitive considerations that keep some information under wraps. But on a project like this, the protected items must be kept to an absolute minimum.
Councillors who are debating the information issue must push for as much transparency as possible. These are public dollars that demand public scrutiny.
© Copyright 2013