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Victoria mayor vows to fix Johnson Street Bridge project problems

Mayor Dean Fortin has vowed to set Victoria’s $92.8-million Johnson Street Bridge project back on track after an independent review of it revealed it’s heading off course in terms of budget and schedule.

Independent consultant Jonathan Huggett was enlisted to review the project in April, following contractor PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc.’s request for a change order that would increase project funding by $7.8 million and extend the deadline by five months, on the basis that the project design was not delivered to it on time.

In his review, Huggett urged the city to take a more pragmatic approach to deal with the cost of the project, questioning the fixed price contract touted by the city.

“You can have a fixed price contract, but it has to be based on a fixed scope of work, schedule and allocation of risk — if you change any one of those, you don’t have a fixed price anymore,” Huggett said.

PCL’s change order is being assessed by the city, though Fortin seemed confident in the possibility of finishing on time and on schedule. Though he said that it was still up in the air, he questioned the validity of PCL’s request.

“I don’t want to easily concede budget responsibilities, we’re still reviewing the change order request to see how much is valid and who is responsible,” Fortin said. “We have an expectation and we have a fixed price contract.”

Councillor and mayoral candidate Lisa Helps, who, along with councillor Ben Isitt, voted against the original contract, said the city needs to be realistic with its expectations and focus on Huggett’s recommendations.

“Saying we have a fixed contract isn’t going to (fix the project),” she said. “We need to work hard, we need leadership and we need to be flexible, or we’re going to alienate other parties. We can’t keep our fingers in our ears, that’s what got us into this bind.”

Though Huggett predicted the bridge would not be open until early 2016, Fortin said that he still expects the new bridge to be finished by the original September 2015 deadline, with the project as a whole wrapping up in early 2016.

The review was also critical of the lack of leadership in the project. The role of project director, who would have authority to manage the project and report to council via the city manager, was left empty.

“During the review process I couldn’t find anybody to take ownership,” Huggett said. “I would ask ‘who’s in charge, who’s responsible for making that decision?’ and they would  just look at each other. Nobody was owning up.”

To correct this problem, Huggett has since been appointed as interim project director until this September, while a suitable permanent candidate is found. The city also fired senior project manager Ken Jarvela last week, who Isitt said was unable to impose much-needed “managerial discipline.”

“(Council’s) expectation going into the project was good project management,” Fortin said. “Issues have been brought to us, so we’ve changed the leadership and we’ll continue implementing (Huggett’s) recommendations.”

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