Victoria’s Johnson Street Bridge project has been singled out by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation for wasting millions in public money.
The project has earned the federation’s 2017 Municipal Teddy Government Waste Award. The award, given out in a number of categories, is named for Ted Weatherill, a federal appointee who was fired after an investigation into his expenses.
The City of Victoria is a first-time recipient of the award, said Jordan Bateman, the federation’s B.C. director.
“We all know the story about the bridge,” he said. “It’s only 100 metres long. Usain Bolt, he could run that in 9.5 seconds.
“It’s going to cost about $105 million and nearly a decade to [build] it.”
Bateman said that the 2009 estimate for the bridge was about $63 million. At the time, the completion date was set for Sept. 30, 2015, but it is now scheduled to be open to vehicles by Dec. 31 and finished by March 2018.
He said one reason for handing the bridge a Teddy Waste Award is that the federal government is planning to give out significant infrastructure money, and problems similar to Victoria’s could arise elsewhere.
“We’re going to see lots of Johnson Street Bridges across the country, lots of other infrastructure being built,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that councils, especially, understood Victoria is a cautionary tale.
“There are things you can learn from Victoria in how not to build a bridge project.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the federation has every right to be critical.
“I think it’s a well-known fact I didn’t support awarding the contract for this bridge when I was a councillor for a lot of the reasons that we can now see,” she said. “It was poorly planned, it was poorly estimated, there wasn’t enough of a contingency budget.
“What I can say is, going forward, Crystal Pool, [the] fire hall, all of our capital projects that we’re undertaking now — bike lanes — we’ve got a completely new approach to estimates.”
All are checked by a third party, Helps said.
Victoria Coun. Geoff Young said he spoke a lot about the merits of refurbishing the old bridge in past debate.
“What even I did not appreciate at the time was just how many uncertainties there were going to be in the construction of the new bridge, because of the choice that was made of the design,” he said.
Young said the bridge has ended up being an “enormously complex undertaking.”
Bateman said it is the eighth time that a B.C. agency or person has received the award. Victoria was nominated last year for the installation of musical railings that emit lights and sounds in the Bastion Square parkade.
It is never a good thing to get a Teddy Waste Award, he said, “but I am happy to tell you there are very few repeat winners.”
He said that not much can be done now to change the Victoria situation.
“This cake is really baked,” he said. “I feel terrible for the taxpayers of Victoria.”