City council delays bridge decision, looks to cut costs by ditching rail link

About $15 million could be cut from $63-million cost to replace Johnson St. bridge if line ended in Vic West

Victoria could save almost a quarter of the cost of the $63-million Johnson Street Bridge replacement if rail isn’t included, say city staff.

The move, saving an estimated $15 million, would mean the E&N Rail line would end in Vic West.

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Councillors have postponed any decision on whether to replace or refurbish the bridge pending consultation with other Capital Regional District municipalities and the Island Corridor Foundation, which owns the E&N Rail corridor. The city also wants to see if they would contribute to the cost of the rail portion of the bridge.

But that possibility seems remote. “I’d like to be a Swiss banker, but that’s not the case,” said View Royal Mayor Graham Hill, CRD representative on the Island Corridor Foundation. Hill said the organization has its own funding woes and is struggling “just to keep the rail line together.”

The notion of eliminating the rail crossing arose after the city failed to secure two-thirds funding for the replacement project through the federal-provincial infrastructure stimulus grant program.

Ross Crockford, a director of johnsonstreetbridge.org — an organization that believes the city moved too fast in opting for replacement of the bridge rather than refurbishing — doubted the city would get money from the region. “It’s like you’re standing before all these other governments with a gun to your head saying giving me $10,000 [or] I’ll blow my brains out,’ ” Crockford said. “If I was another municipality, I’d go: ‘OK, I’ll think about it.’ ”

Terminating the E&N Rail line in Vic West would fly in the face of transportation planning that has envisioned commuter rail linking with a bus corridor on Douglas Street. “There’s no question if you’re going to run commuter rail, you have to come across that bridge,” said Oak Bay Mayor Christopher Causton, who chairs the regional transit commission.

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin said the region should have an opportunity to have a say in the “regional” project. “And if there’s an opportunity to have a say, perhaps there’s even an opportunity to pay.”

The $63-million price tag is the estimated cost of replacing the 85-year-old bridge and its approaches with a new structure that would last 100 years. Refurbishing the existing bridge is estimated to cost between $25 million and $30 million and add 40 years of life.

Coun. Geoff Young said one of the arguments against refurbishing the bridge has been that there isn’t room on the current bridge to improve access for cyclists and pedestrians. Ending rail in Vic West could allow the existing rail line bridge section to be converted for cycling and pedestrians, he said.

City staff was asked to take a detailed look at a report prepared by Crockford’s organization on the refurbishment option.

bcleverley@tc.canwest.com

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