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Comment: We voted for the bridge - let's get on with it

Oct 17 2012
Bridge cost stays the same. 

Bridge cost stays the same.

Photograph by: Darren Stone , timescolonist.com (July 2012)

The Johnson Street Bridge project will move forward with the awarding of a contract and construction to begin in the new year, but some critics still can't get past the referendum they lost two years ago.

Contrary to the opinion article in the Oct. 13 Times Colonist, the bridge project is not facing runaway cost inflation. There have been scope changes, but these are new projects put before a new council where a majority voted to proceed with a workplan that makes good sense. Federal shipbuilding contracts and Point Hope's plan to add a new graving dock to their shipyard added new elements to the project (and both followed the referendum). There will now be buffers to protect new piers and bridge foundations from passing ships.

Few would argue that it is not worth the investment.

That and other new features were put before council in a public meeting, where a vote was held to proceed, and none alter the fundamental direction of the bridge project.

Where critics really stretch credibility is in suggesting that the bridge, pool, fire hall and other projects must be tacked onto a half-billion-dollar infrastructure deficit. The city's engineers and other staff have been presenting details about the condition of city assets for years. That is the infrastructure deficit critics are now trying to sell as something new, clearly an attempt to mislead the public into believing it is something more.

The writers contend the bridge - badly corroded by saltwater, built with low-tech materials - can be saved. It cannot. The city is not primarily a curator of a museum, but needs in this case to manage an effective and durable transportation system of which the bridge is a central feature. While early analysis sketched out a plan to refurbish the old bridge, further examination of the condition of the bridge and the economic impacts of any rescue plan made it clear that that project was never feasible.

Critics also dismiss the very public and democratic process that has followed the project from Day One. A duly elected council made choices after considering reports from its own engineering department and independent consultants.

Those choices were turned back by a counter-petition process that received widespread coverage and public engagement, precipitating a referendum where citizens chose, by a significant margin, to proceed with a new bridge.

The mayor and most councillors re-elected also supported the new bridge. New councillors who have since joined the "opposition" did not run against the bridge. Those that did were far down the list of also-rans.

This is not a game of "let's vote until we get it right." The people of Victoria have spoken, they have elected a council to follow through with the choices they made, and they expect them to deliver. Critics are still entitled to their own opinions, just not their own facts.

John Luton is a former Victoria city councillor.

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