Come clean on Johnson Street Bridge costs, Chong says

Armed with an independent engineer’s projection that the Johnson Street Bridge project costs will be between $11.4 million and $17.2 million more than its $92.8-million budget, Victoria mayoral candidate Ida Chong says it’s time for Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin to “come clean” on the project costs.

Engineer William Doyle analyzed project documents posted online by the city, including engineering reports, press releases and staff reports, to come up with his figures.

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Noting that prior to the 2011 municipal election, the budget for the bridge replacement was $77 million and residents were only told after the election that the cost had jumped to $92.8 million, Chong said Fortin is showing “a repeated pattern of secrecy” over actual bridge costs.

“I’m asking Dean Fortin, will you finally come clean and admit what the true costs of what this Johnson Street replacement bridge will be? I want him to stop hiding behind staff. I want him to accept responsibility for this financial fiasco,” Chong said at a news conference.

Chong, who has promised to freeze the property-tax rate if elected, was short on specifics when asked how she would pay for bridge massive overruns while implementing her tax-rate freeze.

“There are some administrative overhead [costs] we will have to take a look at. We will take a look at each line item and where the spending is. There have been increased costs in a number of areas if you’ve taken a look at the budget. So we will have to take a look at that. We are not going to continually increase the budget and end up having to throw it at the Blue Bridge project without asking for those tough questions,” Chong said.

The fact that the companies involved in designing, building and overseeing the project want more money is nothing new.

In March, PCL Construction filed what is known as a change order, saying it needs $7.9 million more than the $62.9 million budgeted for its work, plus an additional 51Ú2 months to complete the work.

Design consultant MMM Group and sub-consultant Hardesty Hanover are asking for $840,000 more, and have identified about $1.55 million in costs they say are beyond their contracted commitments. All parties, including the city, have entered mediation in an attempt to resolve the issues.

Doyle’s conclusion, after examining the change orders, is that the change orders submitted by PCL and MMM will not only have to be paid in full, but that more bills are coming.

Fortin said there is nothing new in Doyle’s report, and he said his position on bridge costs remains unchanged: “A contract is a contract. The budget remains the same and the cost to the taxpayers of Victoria remains the same.”

Coun. Lisa Helps, who voted against the bridge contract and is challenging Fortin for his job, said the mayor’s stance is unrealistic.

She agreed with Fortin the information presented in Doyle’s report is not new to people who have been sitting around the council table.

“But the information that’s there is information that’s been a concern to me for the last three years,” said Helps, adding she has long maintained it’s naive to say the project is going to be on time and on budget.

“Sticking to that line is not helping anything,” Helps said.

“The honest answer is we don’t know how much the bridge is going to cost and that’s a problem. We shouldn’t be a year and a half into a construction project not knowing how much the bridge is going to cost.

“So I can’t say if it’s $92.8 [million] or $110 [million] and the fact that we don’t know is the fundamental problem.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

This is an edited version of an earlier story.

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