As the City of Victoria prepares to make its biggest capital decision ever on the Johnson Street Bridge, council must pause, take a deep breath, and consider every aspect of the project and its implications.
The public is feeling that its tax dollars have not been well spent or considered, and the failure of information flow regarding the bridge and other capital assets has aggravated this situation. Now is the time for the mayor and council to change the decision-making process.
As the Johnson Street Bridge replacement costs continue to escalate, council must also consider other needs for spending that have come to light. A new Crystal Pool, the fire hall, seismic upgrades, demands for new parks, bicycle trails and more must now be prioritized, along with a possible half-billion-dollar infrastructure deficit and the unknown costs of the city's asset-management plan.
The bridge design itself should also be part of council's sober second look, including the discarded option of refurbishing the existing structure. The "one-of-a-kind" design, with its risks and costs, could be compared to recent projects built in North America that follow tried-and-true designs and construction techniques. And the public must be able to see this information. None of the project decisions to date has been transparent. Freedom-of-information requests are not the way for taxpayers to find out how their dollars are being spent.
Project management should also be reconsidered. City staff and consultants working behind closed doors have not led to confidence and trust. An alternative would be for Victoria to follow the example of Edmonton's major transit project, and advertise for an expert panel. This panel would advise council on project management, risk and cost control, and conduct its business in public. It is our money, and our debt, to manage, after all.
Careful reconsideration of the Johnson Street Bridge and our other big-budget obligations could result in savings of tens of millions of dollars. This money could be used for other pressing needs, such as affordable housing, a bridge design that includes rail capability, food security and the possibility of increasing public trust in our institutions.
We urge council to act before it is too late.
The authors are community volunteers active in Victoria.
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