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Done deal all done

Spent the morning at City Hall, where mayor and council – all but one, namely Councillor Geoff Young – voted in favor of replacing the Johnson Street Bridge. Thank-you, Geoff Young, for throwing some well-placed questions out there, not that it made any difference to your colleagues.

Anyway, a few notes:

  • Less than 30 minutes into the meeting (at 10:36am), Counc. John Luton put the motion on the table to replace the bridge.
  • Mayor Dean Fortin made ominious noises about how if we don’t get to borrow the money that’s needed to replace the bridge, we might have to raise taxes or raid the capital fund. The “raise” and “raid” homonym caught my ear.
  • Councillor Lynn Hunter’s voice nearly cracked with emotion when she rose (figuratively speaking) to defend “our professional staff” who have “been models of public service”; she said that she’s “disturbed” that they’ve been “verbally abused and have their professional ethics questioned” because these poor public servants cannot “fight back” (their hands are tied). She emphasized how astonished she was by criticism of public service staff in “a public service town” – a reference to government’s role as major employer in Victoria. (Editorial note: Yes, well, maybe that’s part of what’s wrong with Victoria: no criticism allowed…)
  • Councillor Geoff Young said he’s not surprised by the poll results (see also my post from yesterday about opinion poll games…) and that the results were obvious, given the information presented by council. Even the Chamber of Commerce fell into the trap of voting for the “cheaper” option (which council presented as the replacement option, because the refurbishment option was presented as the more expensive one), but what people really want is the cheapest option (which means “no” to the Cadillac refurbish option – an option that was never given as an option on the survey). This means people (including the Chamber) say “cheaper” by default (again, talk about gaming the survey…).
  • Counc. Geoff Young continued to question all the repair conditions given, including the 100-year-life-span; the luxury multi-modal addition; and the bullet-proof 8.5 seismic upgrade.
  • Counc. Geoff Young also referenced the Aug.11 op-ed by Ross Crockford (Councillors need to ask tough questions), where the latter points out that the replacement design – an oversized version of the Canary Wharf rolling bascule bridge – is untested and we have no idea how this bridge will wear, or what it will actually cost. The “cost uncertainties” with this design, Young noted, “are bigger than we might think.”
  • Counc. Geoff Young also noted that council has told the public that the $21million Federal infrastructure stimulus fund contribution is certain with the replace option, but not with repair; this isn’t quite true since the replace option has changed since the $21million was granted (council is proposing eliminating the rail portion, something that the Federal grant assumed was included), and therefore we do NOT have certainty about getting the grant for the replace option.
  • Counc. Geoff Young also again pointed out that the Johnson Street Bridge is actually two independently operating bridges, not one, and that this opens the door to creative refurbishment (where one bridge is closed for rehab while the other remains open, with a reverse switch when the first span is finished).
  • Counc. Geoff Young also pointed out that council has said that the bridge faces closure in 2012, but that it will take four years (till 2014) to build a new bridge – so what happens in the two year gap? Or does the bridge not need to close in 2012 after all?
  • Councillor Sonya Chandler spoke at length about “the community” and seemed to channel “the community” repeatedly, for example when she said that she doesn’t believe that “this community” wants “the cheapest option.” (Editorial aside: really? This community – me – does. I don’t think we can afford a bridge that’s going to end up costing $150million to $200million at the end of the day…)
  • Counc. Sonya Chandler also said that she thinks “we’re making urban history” (she meant the decision process at today’s meeting, with its result of voting to replace the Johnson Street Bridge). (Not sure how she arrived at “making urban history” since this whole replacement scheme will simply suburbanize downtown, but, oh well…)
  • Councillor John Luton said that we’re not just dealing with heritage, but with an “essential piece of transportation infrastructure”; he then noted that “form must follow function” and that “this piece of transportation infrastructure has hit the wall.” (Huh?) He added that he “supports a new bridge as the most supportable option.”
  • Councillor Pamela Madoff spoke lengthily about her experience with heritage and how she traveled to sites that have experienced earthquakes. She told us that earthquake damage can be quite unpredictable because the waves travel through the ground in ways that can’t be foretold. Even though the Johnson Street Bridge is heritage-worthy, “seismic performance” is at the top of her list of priorities, followed by multi-modal performance, which is a guarantor, she said, of a democratic approach. No one should feel like a second-class citizen on the bridge – whether they’re a wheelchair or scooter user, pedestrian, cyclist, etc. (she pointedly omitted drivers of cars, and therefore also riders of public transit – including trains).
  • Counc. Pamela Madoff pointed to a 2008 Vic News article by Keith Vass, which noted that the city (Engineering Dept) had requested a condition assessment report on the bridge sometime in 2007, and that the bridge would be on the new (post-2008 election) council’s agenda. She suggested this vindicated council in the face of criticism that the bridge was not on the agenda during the election. (Editorial note: it wasn’t on the agenda during the election, and if incumbent councillors knew that it would be, pre-election, perhaps they should have spoken to the issue during the election. Live and learn.)
  • The other councillors really didn’t add anything of interest. Several (including some of the ones cited above, with the exception of Young and Madoff) spoke at far too great a length about themselves, as if we cared.
  • Mayor Fortin concluded the comments by repeating the poll results (that 80% of respondents said they would find the replacement option acceptable – but again, see Young’s comments about how the questions leading to that result were formulated and presented).
  • The vote, as noted above: everyone except Geoff Young in favor of replacement.

Quelle malheur, as they say in France…

Photo by Eric Porcher


  1. Deepest sympathies. What you said about Sir Humphrey.

    We have a Federal election campaign going on here – the current Leader of the Opposition suggested that all government proposals should be subjected to public service evaluation before Parliament is allowed to pass them! Even the elected representatives don’t support democracy.

    Comment by melanie — August 13, 2010 #

  2. PS: your remark on federal funding reminded me that I wrote to your federal minister some time ago about the JSB and he replied that questions of private property were not part of his portfolio! Sigh!

    Comment by melanie — August 13, 2010 #

  3. I was polled by Ipsos Reid and my final comment was that I hoped Council would consider a basic rehab option but I was disappointed to see that statistically, no-one else mentioned it given the opportunity.

    And if Hunter is distressed about the treatment of civil servants, Council should come clean about how and why deferred maintenance led to the iconic bridge’s destruction. Madoff’s suggestion that investigating past maintenance practices would be “useful information” gives me hope that this scandalous part of our recent history will be uncovered and that we will be more mindful of making such grave errors in the future.

    Comment by robert randall — August 13, 2010 #

  4. Yes, this may be a “CYA” move by Madoff but I don’t recall any other Councillor asking how the maintenance got off track.

    Comment by robert randall — August 14, 2010 #

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