Escalation in new Victoria bridge cost known in January

But city council not informed for two months afterward

When news broke on March 13 that the Johnson Street Bridge replacement project had ballooned from $77 million to $92.8 million, critics of the project wondered how long staff were aware of the problem.

Documents obtained by the News through the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act reveal City of Victoria staff had a good sense for the escalation by Jan 6.

Assistant finance director Susanne Thompson advised in a memo that it was “critical” to inform council as soon as possible. She confirmed $8.4 million in additional costs and said a preliminary review of the data suggested more unconfirmed costs would bring the revised budget estimate to $91.25 million.

On Jan. 12 Thompson elaborated her findings in an email to project director Mike Lai and advisor Bill Larkin. In it, she pinpointed Feb. 16 as a likely date to present the information to council.

“In order to meet that deadline, all additional costs and related decisions (procurement, legal, insurance) will have to be clarified and decisions made by the end of next week – Jan. 20,” she wrote.

But instead of advising council at the first available date, staff waited more than two months to present the report.

Both council and the public learned of the $15.8-million cost escalation days after the federal government announced a $16.5-million grant for the Johnson Street Bridge.

Coun. Lisa Helps speculates the timing may have been strategic, relating to the funding announcement. If so, she said, “that should worry us.”

“That actually may well be a strategically good decision to make, but that is council’s prerogative to make that decision,” Helps said.

Part of the reason for the delay is explained in a Jan. 18 email from finance director Brenda Warner to Lai.

“In discussions with Gail (Stephens, city manager), she is clear that she only wants to go to council once for a budget amendment for this project, so I would encourage you to identify any other additional resources you need to manage this project, and to ensure that appropriate levels of contingency are included,” Warner wrote.

The process of pinning down exact budget requirements took longer than desired.

Well into the first half of March, many emails were sent between the bridge and finance departments seeking clarity on accounting procedures and other budgeting refinements.

As late as March 7, the project estimate was $95 million.

Part of the problem in pinning down a correct estimate could be attributed to a lack of expertise. “From a Finance perspective it is imperative that someone with high-level financial experience is dedicated to this project to assist the Project Manager,” Thompson wrote in her Jan. 12 email.

Director of communications Katie Josephson confirmed an in-house certified general accountant has been assigned to the project.

In an emailed statement, she said the delay in notifying council can be attributed to due diligence, as staff needed to confirm additional costs through a value engineering analysis.

“The initial numbers were preliminary and were informed upon further extensive review,” Josephson said.

“It was necessary to confirm all project related costs to ensure the accounting and estimates presented to council were accurate and current.”

rholmen@vicnews.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

E:Ne Raw Food and Sake Bar is closing its doors until further notice after sexual assault allegations against an employee surfaced on social media. (Google Streetview)
Sexual assault allegations temporarily closing a second Victoria restaurant

Social media posts accuse an E:Ne Raw Food and Sake Bar employee of sexual assault

On Feb. 27, a construction vehicle remained on the site of the former encampment between the Pat Bay Highway and McKenzie Avenue as part a clean-up effort. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Encampment between Pat Bay Highway, McKenzie Avenue cleared, all residents relocated

Efforts to disband encampment resumed after January fire

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled Feb. 26 that the estate of deceased Sooke man and Hells Angels prospect Michael Widner is to be divided between his wife and his secret spouse. (Black Press Media file photo)
Estate of deceased Hells Angels prospect from Sooke to be divided between wife and secret spouse

Michael Widner’s 2017 death left a number of unanswered questions

(Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich council opts to wait until amalgamation study can take place safely in-person

Victoria council, province must weigh-in on next steps for citizens’ assembly

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

It’s ‘urgent’ that B.C. teachers be vaccinated from COVID-19 before summer: BCTF

Enough isn’t being done to prevent virus transmission in schools, says president Teri Mooring

FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, endangered orcas from the J pod swim in Puget Sound west of Seattle, as seen from a federal research vessel that has been tracking the whales. A new study from federal researchers provides the most detailed look yet at what the Pacific Northwest's endangered orcas eat. Scientists with the NOAA Fisheries Northwest Fisheries Science Center spent years collecting fecal samples from the whales as well as scales from the fish they devoured. They say their data reaffirm the central importance of Chinook salmon to the whales. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Study reinforces importance of Chinook to Pacific Northwest orcas

Data confirms how central the big salmon are to the orca’s diet year-round

Shiromali Krishnaraj arrives from India and receives a mandatory COVID-19 test at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. B.C.’s approved rapid tests also use a nasal swab, with a machine to scan for COVID-19 antibodies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s rapid COVID-19 tests have produced only two positive results

Tests deployed for exposures in schools, outbreaks in care homes, jails

BC Emergency Health Services confirmed that a call was received just before 10 a.m. Ground paramedics, as well as an air ambulance, are on the way to the area. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
BREAKING: Helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of March 2

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: How’s your butter?

Recent reports have some Canadians giving a second look to one of… Continue reading

The Nanaimo bar display at the Nanaimo Museum. (City of Nanaimo Instagram)
City of Nanaimo points to correct recipe after New York Times botches batch of bars

City addresses ‘controversy’ around dessert square’s layers

A man holds a picture of Chantel Moore during a healing gathering at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on June 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. First Nation demands transparency in probe into second fatal RCMP shooting

‘Police have killed more Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation members than COVID’

Most Read