Is the Johnson Street Bridge a “beater”?

September 2, 2009 at 11:22 pm 5 comments

Many of us have owned beater cars. A beater is not necessarily a car that needs a lot of repairs. Heck, a Ferrari needs constant maintenance. A beater is a car that has passed the point where preventative maintenance is cost-effective. The owner of a beater acknowledges that the car is on its last legs and only does enough basic maintenance (fluids, filters etc.) to keep the car running until it’s finally sent to the scrapyard.

Back in April, Mayor Dean Fortin said,

“Do we spend $25-to-$30 million to rehabilitate a bridge that in 40 years we’re going to have to replace and spend another $50 million, or do you spend $35-to-$40 million to have a bridge that lasts 100 years? It’s a difficult place to be.”

Now the figure is $63 million including a healthy contingency fund. But why is the bridge a beater? It was only ten years ago that the City said the newly-refurbished bridge had “several more decades” of useful life left in it (providing follow-up rustproofing and painting was done).

Well, it turns out that crucial maintenance was never done. Why? City Engineers Mike Lai and Peter Sparanese told a special meeting of the DRA Board Monday evening that wrapping the bridge (to protect the waters from lead paint) was too expensive, time-consuming and difficult. The Upper Harbour is host to vital ship repair operations and the bridge itself is an important commuter link that can’t be off limits during the time the bridge is repaired and painted (although it apparently wasn’t problematic to close the bridge for a week to film a Alicia Silverstone movie).

Obviously, at some point in the last decade City Hall (Council, staff or both) decided the bridge was past the point of no return. Tough (and necessary) new environmental regulations meant that the old way of painting the bridge is impossible and the allowable method was impractical. So why was this a surprise in the year 2009? Citizens should have been informed as soon as it became known that the bridge was essentially irreparable in order that replacement funding could be planned and budgeted. Mayor Fortin has been at the Council table since 2002. I would be interested in knowing whether this repainting dilemma was ever brought to Council’s attention during that time.

Is the Johnson Street Bridge a beater? It sure is now.

Entry filed under: architecture, City Hall, urban design, Victoria's economy.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Yule Heibel  |  September 3, 2009 at 9:22 am

    Mike Lai and Peter Sparanese came to this meeting? I don’t recall getting an announcement about this at any time, and only knew about Lai (directly from you, but not via a DRA announcement). How come? As you know, I wasn’t able to attend anyway, but did other DRA members get proper announcements? How many DRA members showed up at this meeting? Lai and Sparanese both showing suggests they pulled out the big guns, and I wonder whether it wasn’t wasted if only a handful of DRA folks were there and you have no permanent record whatsoever aside from a few notes. Please show me I’m wrong on this….

    Speaking of wrong: I don’t entirely agree with your beater definition: “A beater is a car that has passed the point where preventative maintenance is cost-effective.” There’s more to it than that – for example, the level of knowledge that a person has about objects/ artifacts. I don’t think it’s possible to have the sort of objective standard that your definition suggests.

    I believe that highly subjective aspects go into each individual’s definition of “a beater.” Thus, for example, an ignorant or callow person would have few problems defining a Bugatti as “a beater,” while a knowledgeable person would never do that. That’s because an ignorant or callow person hasn’t got a clue about real value, whereas someone who is informed about the nature and quality of artifacts does.

    You don’t say this, but we all know that Mayor Fortin identified the Johnson Street Bridge as “a beater.” Draw your own conclusions about what I think of the mayor’s level of informedness.

  • 2. robertrandall  |  September 3, 2009 at 11:37 am

    We will never know the true cost of restoration as we have not had a full accounting of the rehabilitation options. Plating the latticework is mentioned for the most degraded of the beams but what about simply replacing them?

    We learned that plate rust is the main culprit–deep layered rust at the core, beneath the surface–often hidden by surface rust and paint.

    My point is that City Hall, by intent or forgetfulness, decided years ago that the bridge was a beater and was not worth keeping. How others valued the bridge apparently played no role in the decision.

  • 3. Mat Wright  |  September 3, 2009 at 1:16 pm


    Your reply is really valid – and raises the question about integrity and accountability within the engineering department and City Hall. IF (big if) this was a realized intent, to let the Johnson Street Bridge fall into disrepair and force a replacement, then there should be a full independent investigation – and action against those responsible.

    You are also correct – why add-on plates, when the really corroded beams can simple be replaced?

  • 4. robertrandall  |  September 3, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    One aspect that bothers me is the use of the outdated electrical system as a reason that replacing the bridge is a good idea.

    While we can all agree that up-to-date electrical works are a good idea, the fact that the present system has lasted the better part of a century is remarkable. We should be grateful that this system has given us so many decades of life. We could probably say it has paid for itself quite handsomely over the years.

    But parts wear out and technology improves and it comes time to bring in a new electrical system that we hope is even more reliable.

    But this should not be used as an excuse to get a new bridge any more than the need for new tires be used in order to get a new car.

  • […] 3, 2010 In a previous post I asked the question, “Is the Johnson Street Bridge a beater“, in other words, was the City treating it like a guy treats an ‘87 Chevy on its last […]


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