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Falling debris off Johnson Street Bridge hits car

Jim Halston was driving eastbound across the Johnson Street Bridge when "a huge thump" startled him.

He first assumed he'd been hit from behind, but the driver behind him was too far back.

"I saw the look on her face in the rear-view mirror. It was a look of shock," Halston said.

He pulled over at his first opportunity.

"I saw the dent (in the roof of the car) and the dust from the rust," he said.

Halston waited for a gap in traffic and returned to the spot, where he retrieved a chunk of rusty metal with blue paint – proof it had flaked off the bridge.

His primary concern was one of safety.

"Had it come down one or two seconds sooner, it could have hit the cyclist (ahead of me)," he said, of the incident on Oct. 4.

So, could it happen again?

It's a question the city is looking into.

"We retained Stantec (an engineering firm) to have a look at it and determine what we need to do," said Victoria's director of engineering and public works Dwayne Kalynchuk.

"We're supposed to receive a report from them shortly as to any additional loose metal that we have to scrape it, or remove it, just to continue to have the bridge operate in a safe condition … It's more than likely we'll have to, at some point, remove some."

Halston's other concern is compensation.

Advanced Collision estimated the repairs to his car at $773.

Last week, he received a letter from the Municipal Insurance Agency denying his claim for compensation.

The city cannot be held responsible, according to the letter, because it was not aware of a history of falling debris and because it was an isolated incident.

"We turn it over to our insurance, and it's up to them to make a call," said Kalynchuk. He agrees, however, that it's fair to characterize the incident as isolated and unpredictable.

Halston disagrees.

"Maybe this is fairly random, but I doubt it," he said. "We all know the issues with the bridge."

In April 2009, Delcan presented an assessment report of the bridge outlining many concerns. They include extensive corrosion, areas of pack rust, and failed paint, as well as a mechanical and electrical system at the end of their life span.

Delcan recommended either replacing or refurbishing the bridge within three years.

That deadline is almost upon us, but a replacement is still two to three years away.

The city has, however, "beefed up" its annual inspections since receiving the Delcan report, said Kalynchuk. It was a Stantec inspection that led to the closure of the rail portion of the bridge last April.

"We continue to do our maintenance as best we can," he said. The insurance agency, he added, likely took the city's diligence into account when determining responsibility for the falling debris.

The experience has left Halston wary.

"I should stop using the bridge," he said. "Maybe it should be shut down."

Mystery metal chunk:

The piece of metal that struck Jim Halston's Saturn weighed roughly 150 grams and measured 10 to 15 centimetres in length, according to his own estimate. Victoria's director of engineering and public works Dwayne Kalynchuk, estimated it at about half that size.

The real measurements, however, can't be known.

"I naively left the piece of metal with them (staff at city hall)," said Jim Halston.

Kalynchuk says he doesn't know if the city still possesses the evidence.

 

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