Barge carrying Johnson Street Bridge steel parts arrives in Victoria

The barge carrying steel for the new Johnson Street Bridge arrived in Victoria Tuesday evening, passing under the existing Blue Bridge after a month-long journey from China.

“It’s been a long road getting here,” said Mayor Lisa Helps, hinting at the series of delays that have put the bridge completion two years behind schedule. “From my perspective and from council’s perspective, we’re really happy to have part of the new bridge land on Canadian soil.”

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People, many with cameras, were spread along the Songhees Walkway to watch the current bridge lift up to make way for the crane barge carrying the bridge parts. It was a few hours later than expected, reaching the Johnson Street Bridge about 8:35 p.m., just as darkness was falling

Helps said it’s a “relief” to have major components of the bridge in Victoria, as it was a challenge to oversee every aspect of steel construction in China.

“There’s a big difference between doing work in China and doing work in Victoria,” Helps said. “We’re not having [project director] Jonathan Huggett flying off to China to go examine the conditions on the shop floor to look at the work that’s being done. He just needs to walk down to the Inner Harbour and take a look.”

Jurek Romaniec, who stood up on a bench to get a good vantage point for a picture, said he was happy to see the steel arrive.

“It’s marvellous it finally showed up,” he said with a laugh. “I think it’s almost three years ago I took a picture of the Blue Bridge up with a vessel coming out from under it and thinking it will be one of the last opportunities for that.

“Still waiting for the last vessel to go under the old Blue Bridge.”

The shipment was expected on Thursday, but the process of unloading the steel onto the Arctic Tuk crane barge in North Vancouver was quicker than expected.

Huggett said he and an engineer from general contractor PCL did a preliminary inspection on Sunday in North Vancouver and did not see any signs of damage or flaws.

“It was in a condition that I thought was better than I anticipated,” he said. He said specialists will carry out a much more detailed examination in Victoria.

The first shipment of steel includes the north and south rings, which weigh about 350 tons each, the lower counterweight and the temporary structure, also called the falsework, used to support the components of the bridge as they’re pieced together.

Huggett said the falsework will appear rusty but that’s because it will be recycled as soon as the rings, part of the lifting mechanism, are installed in the bascule pier.

The steel pieces will be off-loaded at Point Hope Shipyard starting this morning. PCL will clean and inspect the steel pieces for any damage that might have occurred during shipment.

On Saturday, the marine channel under the bridge will be closed so that some of the steel can be unloaded near the east end of the bridge. Vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists will not be affected.

“This is now going to be very much Victorians going to work to piece all this together and come up with a really great project,” Huggett said.

A second shipment of steel, including the trusses and the car deck, is travelling down the Yangtze River to Shanghai and is expected to arrive in about a month.

There have been concerns with the quality of the steel since early in its fabrication. In July 2014, all work stopped temporarily when inspectors found significant flaws, including defective welds. The city hired sub-consultant Hardesty Hanover to provide greater oversight during steel fabrication and the engineering firm signed off on the steel before it left China.

Helps said if construction goes as planned, the bridge will look complete by December.

However, months of engineering tests need to be conducted to ensure the bridge is safe. The bridge is slated to open to traffic by March 30, 2018.

The bridge’s cost was estimated at $63 million in 2009 and grew to $92.8 million when the contract to build it was awarded to PCL Constructors Westcoast in 2012. Construction began in May 2013, and the price is now up to $105 million.

The final bill for the project is still unknown as costs have not been determined for the fenders on the bridge piers.

Additional costs will not have an impact on taxpayers, Helps said, as they will be drawn from the city’s building and infrastructure reserve, which has an unallocated balance of $36 million.

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