Yes: Victoria is Bridge Happy

Victoria is bridge happy. In its 150 years (since the Fort Victoria days), we've gone through 4 downtown bridges. Two (Johnson St. and Point Ellice) are still standing. One bridge is critical for our infrastructure (the Point Ellice Bridge aka Bay Street Bridge) and we're not talking about it. The Bay St. Bridge funnels natural gas, electrical, communications and industrial traffic. Johnson Street Bridge is the kitschy bridge that can rise or lower. It funnels traffic between the low-rent part of town and the downtown core. With one bridge key to the functionality of our city and one that's visible when you're a tourist-- we're zeroing in on the Blue Bridge.
For a long time I have involuntarily been helping the "Yes" campaign. All of the those bus shelter ads; and flyers and media blitzes-- I paid for those. As a taxpayer, I have been obliged to pay for the tens of thousands of dollars wasted on making the "Yes" side prominent and the defacto choice.
To be clear: the "Yes" isn't for the bridge-- it's for the loan and the plan to rush ahead. Flash back a year or so ago. The Conservatives were desperate to continue running the country. They flushed billions of dollars into the country to keep things going. They largely flushed it into the ridings where they had MPs. Gary Lunn got a super expensive overpass to speed people destined for the airport. Keith Martin should have asked for an overpass on the Colwood Crawl (like his rival Troy DeSouza was pushing for); but he asked for nothing and nothing came. Victoria is the NDP nexus (home of federal Denise Savoie, provincial MLAs Rob Fleming and Carole James; and NDP-aligned mayor Dean Fortin). If any part of the country was not going to get funding, it would be Victoria. Add its political leanings and biases to the fact that we got a tonne of money for transportation overhauls in 1999 and it's clear: no money was coming.
This didn't stop Dean Fortin and his staff from rushing in a proposal to tap into all of that juicy funding.
Fortin said the bridge was in dire need of replacement. He was likely right. Starting the year that Fortin was elected to council-- during Alan Lowe's second term-- the maintenance budget for the Blue Bridge plummeted. Rainy Victoria does no favour to metal. Lamp standards in Victoria have rusted through and spontaneously fallen over not a block from the bridge. The bridge, being 86 years old, needs maintenance. If the City gives up on such maintenance, then, yes, the bridge will fall into disrepair and need to be replaced.
But the bridge maintenance neglect has only happened over the last six years. It is possible to overhaul the bridge. But that's not what the Action Plan would cover. Fortin, being an excellent grant writer, knows how to hammer a square peg into a round hole. The repair option was discounted, they found a sole source for the bridge replacement design and declared that it would only cost $50 million.
To hammer off the corners of the bridge project, they jettisoned the rail line. The best way to move a lot of commuters is rail, so this transit route (the bridge) isn't going to be available to move high density transportation.

RailBusCarBike
  • Best speed
  • High density of passengers
  • Available to the disabled
  • Expensive to set-up
  • Mediocre speed
  • High density of passengers
  • Partially available to the disabled
  • Cheap to set-up
  • Contributes to gridlock
  • Okay speed
  • Poor density of passengers
  • Partially available to the disabled
  • Cheap to set-up
  • Makes gridlock
  • Poor speed
  • Low density of passengers
  • Not available to the disabled
  • Cheap to set-up
  • Contributes to gridlock
If we could go deep into hawk and fix all of our problems, for the budgeted amount to give us a bridge for 100 years, that would be great. To date, we have not kept a bridge for 100 years. Budgets run amok.
"YES" means that for the next 100 years (est. lifespan of the bridge) the rail line will terminate in Vic-West instead of continuing into downtown. So, the CRD's commitment to light rail as a means of moving people in the CRD will be stymied for 5 generations. "YES" doesn't give us the money needed to erect a bridge. It gives us $50 million. If the final cost is $60 or $80 million, we don't have a loan provision or a "blank cheque" checkbox on the referendum question. That additional cost will be our cost as taxpayers in the city and the region.

This has been a rushed process. Fortin and City Hall have painted themselves into a corner. They have said the sky bridge is falling, hence why they hit up the Feds for millions of dollars. They can't back down without losing face. Fortin knows how the wheels will turn. By 2012, he can try for the provincial NDP and forego re-election as mayor. When the bridge is erected and we are all burdened with the massive overruns, Fortin will have moved on up the political food chain. Should Carole James not be able to unseat the Liberal leader (aka Rich Coleman, John Furlong or Idi Amin), in 2013, a new sitting NDP MLA with leadership experience would be a front runner to take James' spot. Ida Chong is low hanging fruit and Fortin could have her seat after taking a year off from the job of running the cash strapped capital.

I am voting "NO" and I urge you to do the same.
"No" means:
  • No to the loan
  • No to excluding light rail in Victoria
  • No to a blank cheque for budget overruns
  • No to tearing down an 86 yr. old structure because an unproven structure could last 100 years.
"No" can also mean:
  • We still want to replace the bridge with a reasonable assessment of the situation; and multiple bids from contractors.
  • We need to ask what the role of Downtown Victoria will be in 30 years.
  • We need to ask what happens when the next big expense hits.
  • We need to remember that the Bay St. Bridge is even more important to the region.

Comments

Woodcrafter said…
So vote YES!
The money saved will allow LRT rail to be constructed right into VicWest which is a short walk from downtown. This will get all the fat bastards in shape while going to work. It will pump needed cash into VicWest, the poor 'low rent district.'
OR
remove the Blue Bridge entirely and save all that money. Save the wear and tear on Esquimalt roads, unpaid for by the city of Victoria. Save the increased, high speed traffic loads that threaten our elderly residents as they try to cross the streets. As you state, we only need the Bay Street Bridge.
Mike DeWolfe said…
I don't know why removing the bridge isn't considered a positive step. Lanes have been removed on Esquimalt Road, Bay Street, Finlayson and other roads. If we need the traffic capacity, we wouldn't have removed these other lanes. Soon Shelbourne will be crippled in the same way. So reducing capacity is still underway. And, I am confused by heritage people who want to remove an uncommon landmark like the bridge. And, I'm confused that pro-bike and pro-mass transit people are supporting $50-million for three car lanes to go 400 feet.
gfox said…
To the two suggesting removal of the blue bridge as an option: I suggest you don't live across the water. The Bay St bridge is nowhere near adequate enough to support all the traffic it currently carries and the blue bridge traffic. Try crossing into Vic West around 5 pm. The back up of traffic is bad.

Also no wear and tear would be saved by scrapping the blue bridge, since all that traffic would get routed to the other bridges.

There was no reduction in capacity from the removal of lanes on Esquimalt Ave. That was a traffic calming measure. Slower traffic, safer lanes for cyclists. The same amount of traffic flows along those streets now as before the upgrades.
gfox said…
To the two suggesting removal of the blue bridge as an option: I suggest you don't live across the water. The Bay St bridge is nowhere near adequate enough to support all the traffic it currently carries and the blue bridge traffic. Try crossing into Vic West around 5 pm. The back up of traffic is bad.

Also no wear and tear would be saved by scrapping the blue bridge, since all that traffic would get routed to the other bridges.

There was no reduction in capacity from the removal of lanes on Esquimalt Ave. That was a traffic calming measure. Slower traffic, safer lanes for cyclists. The same amount of traffic flows along those streets now as before the upgrades.
Mike DeWolfe said…
gfox, Until a couple years ago, I lived in VicWest. On most weekdays, I was on the Bay St. Bridge at 5PM.
I would say that the city planning over the last few decades has not shown a strategy of meeting capacity but frustrating the traffic flow and forcing people to choose alternatives. Slower traffic means it takes longer to get from A-to-B. And, the traffic on those roads are generating exhaust for longer periods of time.
That slower travel time cuts into our quality of life: the Colwood Crawl victims have the option of losing about 10% of their leisure time on weekdays to the delays from the commute.
On Finlayson, the removal of lanes for the excuse of traffic crippling/calming means that the blocks between Blanshard and Shelbourne are a long and potential choke point. If there is a vehicle breakdown, one direction of traffic is blocked. If service vehicles (buses, garbage, recycling, etc.) need to stop, then traffic is more than calmed-- it's paralyzed.
I don't agree with the approach of traffic calming and I think we should keep two Vic-West-to-Downtown bridges, but shutting down the bridge would be consistent with the mindset of traffic calming.
Brian Simmons said…
Great post Mike. I only hope enough Victorians are able to see through the Mayor's confabulations and vote "No!".
Mike DeWolfe said…
Thanks, Brian. I am not saying "No" as in "No bridge"-- I am voting "No" because a project of this scale needs to be put out to tender, financially managed, planned properly and then executed.
gfox said…
Fair enough Mike, I retract the portion of my comment about you not living across the water. I understand the environmental impact of traffic calming, but I still agree with the plans. Safer streets are a good thing to me (as a driver, a cyclist, a transit user, and a pedestrian).

As for people caught in the crawl and losing their free time, well, that was a choice they made by living out there (IMO). To me it is like moving in next to an airport, then complaining about the noise of the planes.

For me, I would personally rather see a replacement of the bridge, but am concerned over what that means while construction is ongoing (forcing all traffic across the other bridges). I haven't seen anyone say anything about that.
Mike DeWolfe said…
gfox, all good points. I think the remedy to our transportation problems is to question why we're taking people away from their high-speed Internet at home to work connected to a high-speed network downtown.
We have a lot of office workers who don't need to commute. For example, have the CRD enact a work-at-home Tuesday; and the Province a work-at-home Wednesday; and the Feds a work-at-home Thursday. Get other large employers (UVic, tech companies, etc.) with staff who could work from home to do the same and we can take the pressure off of our transportation systems. I did a bit on this last year.
The Federal money would also be our money. Figured out what the interest on the loan will be at 4% .... approx. $22 million. Our money again, but diverted from other projects. Repair makes sense at this point... then more "healthy" discussion over the next 10 years should bring us to the next cross-roads. I object strongly to the spin the city has used (oops... again our dollars). Yes vote, but vote NO. Yes, VOTE NO! Hugh

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