Work on Johnson Street Bridge delayed due to high winds

Update: The installation of the bridge work has been postponed until Sunday due to high winds. The Johnson Street Bridge will be open to traffic today.

A wind warning for Greater Victoria was issued Friday afternoon and remains in place.

Update: The Dynamic Beast crane barge arrived in Victoria Friday morning.

Wind will be the wild card as workers prepare to lift the last major pieces of the new Johnson Street Bridge into place this weekend, said project director Jonathan Huggett.

The schedule calls for the existing bridge to be closed to all traffic from 7 a.m. Saturday until about 5 p.m. Sunday while the massive crane barge known as the Dynamic Beast lifts and places the 46-metre-long, 470-ton bridge deck span and then the roadway infill panel.

But winds of more than 20 kilometres an hour would cause the work to be delayed, Huggett told councillors.

“It’s largely a factor of the tie-ropes that guide this thing into place as to how much load we can take. If it isn’t good enough, we will simply stay and wait until the winds subside,” Huggett said, noting a design data review is underway to see if that limit can be exceeded.

“We aren’t going to do anything that isn’t safe,” he said.

“Until Saturday morning, we won’t know for certain, but we will wait. If necessary, we may even lift after dark if we have to. We will simply stand there and wait until the wind goes and then we will lift.”

Environment Canada issued a wind warning for Greater Victoria on Friday afternoon. It said strong southeasterly winds are expected to develop over the area overnight and early Saturday morning, with winds of 70 km/h gusting to 90 are possible near the immediate coast. The winds are expected shift to the southwest 40 to 60 km/h near Juan de Fuca Strait later Saturday morning as the system passes southern Vancouver Island.

During the work, the existing Johnson Street Bridge will be closed to pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. The crane barge will be parked directly under the existing bridge, which will remain in the up position until all pieces are placed. Areas near the approaches to the bridge will be closed for safety.

During the closure, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers will be detoured to the Bay Street Bridge.

The following week, everything will be bolted into place before the first test lift of the new bridge is tried — scheduled for Feb. 4.

That, too, will be a time-consuming process. “This is not a simple issue, as if you walked down, press a button, hope for the best and 90 seconds later the bridge is open,” Huggett said.

“This will take probably an entire day, maybe six hours to lift the bridge the first time, because what we do is we lift it degrees. We have an army of people down there who are experts, who walk around every single part of it. If they see no problems, we lift it another couple of degrees and we keep doing that all day long. If there is a problem, everything stops, we figure out what’s wrong with it and we carry on.”

While the new bridge will look complete, it is not expected to be open to the public until the end of March to allow for testing of its mechanical, electrical and hydraulic systems.

After the new bridge is operational, demolition of the old bridge will begin, Huggett said.

Coun. Ben Isitt suggested that dismantling of the old bridge be put off for several months to make sure the new one is operating without difficulties. “It would seem to me somewhat hasty to rush into demolition until we’ve had several months — six or nine or a 12-month period to confirm the functionality,” Isitt said.

But Huggett said such a delay would be not only unnecessary but costly.

“We will not open this bridge unless the whole team is satisfied that it is working properly. There is an extensive testing and commissioning process that we’re going to go through for the next two months,” he said. “If you delay this, you would incur a significant increase in costs.”

Bridge builder PCL would have to demobilize, then come back and remobilize, Huggett said. Work on public spaces on the approaches to the new bridge would not be completed because the old bridge is in the way.

“You would not be able to have all the functionality of the new bridge. For example, we can’t complete the south-side pedestrian walkway until I get the old bridge out of the way.”

Mayor Lisa Helps said it’s important to note that when the new bridge opens at the end of March, the overall project will not be finished. The old bridge will have to be demolished and improvements to public areas and some of the walkway links will have to be completed.

During the weekend closing, Victoria Harbour Ferry will provide ferry services between the Delta Hotel, Regent Hotel and causeway docks. The ferries will operate from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The fare is $2 per person for a one-way trip.

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