Johnson Street Bridge a beater: redux

April 3, 2010 at 10:43 pm 3 comments

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 legs–only doing the barest of safety maintenance before it heads to the wrecker?

New information has come to light thanks to a Freedom of Information request on bridge maintenance logs. For more on this, consult and the current issue of FOCUS magazine. Here’s a timeline summary of what we have learned, based on the best information I have read so far:

Early 1980s: the black bridge is repainted blue (I remember this because we were driving under the bridge at the time and my mom’s 1976 Mercury Bobcat was spattered with brown primer paint).

1999: Extensive repairs on the bridge are completed. Councillors acknowledge that based on past history, more structural work will need to be done in 20 years. City manager of transportation and development Clive Timms says the refurbished bridge is now good for several more decades of useful life, although a full paint job will have to be done before 2002. Council at the time frets about the inconvenience and price of a full paint job.

EDIT: I am told that around 2002 a City report notes that pack rust has set in and that normal painting will only exacerbate the rust’s spread. I don’t have confirmation of this, however.

2005: It appears the promised recoating was never done. In addition, after this date no additional painting was done except for some graffiti removal.

2008: At the request of City Council, Delcan inspects the bridge and delivers a report the following year.

2009: Council, citing the Delcan report, decides to replace the bridge, claiming it is beyond practical repair.

I suspected back in September that the City considered the bridge a beater and treated it accordingly. Now we have the proof, in that essential post-rehab painting was never done, and that the Delcan assessment was commissioned several years too late, long after the City decided to stop painting it. I have also heard that Council was unaware the bridge was deteriorating at an unexpected rate during that crucial 2002-2008 period which shifts the balance of blame to Engineering although I think more research needs to be done to find out who dropped the ball. It may have a lot to do with the staff changes at Engineering in the mid 2000s as the old-school nuts-and-bolts guys were replaced by engineers with a more “academic” background and a sense of “ownership” of the bridge was inadvertently misplaced.

My current feeling is this: replacement is likely now the best option. City Hall will never embrace the rehab option with any degree of enthusiasm, so forcing them in this direction is asking for trouble in the form of an underfunded, overbudget, half-assed job. We can only ask that they change the culture of neglect in order to ensure the new bridge is properly maintained.

Entry filed under: architecture, City Hall.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Yule Heibel  |  April 4, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Interesting conclusion, Rob, …but:

    I wonder whether your proposal doesn’t reward the politicians for being negligent on the job to date.

    Personally, I’m loathe to reward bad behavior, even if it does look like the hard-nosed realistic option. That’s also why this issue is much bigger than the bridge itself.

    At issue is the basic, systemic incompetence of our elected municipal leadership.

    That issue in turn gets back to voter apathy and the fact that Victorians have elected clowns to public office for years.

    There, I said it.

    Throw the bums out, as the saying goes.

  • 2. Yule Heibel  |  April 4, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    A follow-up re. your comment that “…the Delcan assessment was commissioned several years too late, long after the City decided to stop painting it.”

    I’m not sure where you get this interpretation, frankly. There is nothing in the Delcan Report itself that suggests that it’s “too late” to repair the bridge. Nothing.

    The Delcan Report in fact lays out the option for repair as one of the choices before council. The Delcan Report states clearly that bridge repair is possible – and cheaper – than replacement.

    It is the scoundrels (sorry, there I go again) at City Hall who have been busy spinning the facts and twisting things to make it appear that repair would be more expensive or too onerous or “too late.”

    I really don’t see why their behavior should be rewarded by handing them a carte blanche to sock-o the taxpayer with tens upon tens of millions of dollars of debt to replace this bridge.

  • 3. robertrandall  |  April 4, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    Yes, replacing the bridge would definitely be rewarding bad behaviour. It shows them if you stand up to the public and wait them out you will eventually prevail.

    My point is that if the Delcan report was commissioned five years ago, the rehab option would have been much more palatable. I’ll agree with you that the rehab option is still do-able. If this drags on for another couple of years without painting the scale will be tipped in favour of replacement.

    I still say when it comes to the rehab option the City is acting like a surly teenager that was asked to rake the leaves on a Saturday afternoon.

    One question remains to be answered: what happened between 2002 and 2008, the timeframe between the date the bridge needed Timms’ recommended repainting and the realization that serious corrosion had set in. Who dropped the ball, Council or Engineering?


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