Council approves $8.2 million budget increase for bridge

The bridge is expected to be open to traffic by the end of December 2017, with the project competed by March 31, 2018.

Engineers responsible for overseeing the steel fabrication of the new Johnson Street Bridge have reassured Victoria council the bridge is being built to the highest North American safety standards.

The Johnson Street Bridge has been a project of concern lately with going over budget, problems with steel fabrication in China and the completion date being pushed back repeatedly.

In a presentation to council Thursday, project engineers with Hardesty and Hanover reaffirmed the bridge is being built to North American standards and will be fully-functional for its anticipated lifespan.

“It’s a very complicted and interesting project and we’re looking forward to moving it forward so that it can be a structure that is befitting of Victoria,” said Keith Griesing, the project manager supervising steel fabrication and design in China. “We are very optimistic that we’re going to get that bridge here and it’s going to be the icon that you need it to be.”

The steel, being produced by Jiangsu Zhongtai Steel Structure Co. Ltd. in China, has been riddled with problems. In 2014, steel fabrication of the main bridge trusses and a large ring rotating mechanism was rejected. Last year, 75 cracked welds were detected on the steel deck surface. The defects were properly documented and repairs completed.

According to engineers, many of the issues arose because steel fabricators have little experience with North American fabrication and safety standards. As a result, workers have been receiving on the job training about the standards.

Griesing said the process won’t impact the overall quality of the steel once it’s complete.

“The best analogy I can make is if you go to a barista and they make your coffee right and they do it a certain way. But one day that person’s not there and they make your coffee slight differently and it tastes differently. They didn’t make the coffee wrong, they just did it a different way,” Griesing said.

“They’re not used to working at these standards because it’s not their primary clients. So they’re learning and they have to change some of their practices that maybe other clients don’t require them to meet…we’ve gotten through a lot of the learning curve on that.”

Fabrication errors were attributed to human error or machine breakdowns, said Griesing, adding  the issues with steel fabrication weren’t any more “dramatic” compared to other projects of similar complexity.

On Thursday, council also reluctantly approved an $8.2 million increase in the budget from the city’s buildings and infrastructure reserve, however, $2 million is a recommended contingency. Fendering is not included in the price. The total project budget is roughly $105 million after the increase.

Many councillors expressed frustration with the previous council’s decision to build such a complex bridge.

“It’s true innovation is a sexy work, but if it’s not something that adds value to the project, then it’s not something that should be leapt at,” said Mayor Lisa Helps. “We’ll get the bridge here, we’ll get it open and see how it’s received by the public.”

Through a successful medation session between March and early April, a new construction schedule has been agreed to.

The bridge is expected to be open to traffic by the end of December 2017, with the project competed by March 31, 2018.