New councillor wants to reopen Johnson Street Bridge design debate

Coun. Ben Isitt says it would be fiscally prudent to revisit the design

Coun. Ben Isitt says it would be fiscally prudent to revisit the design of the Johnson Street Bridge, whose replacement is underway.

“Could we build a simpler, more functional bridge, for much cheaper?” he asked.

Isitt was first elected to city council in November.

On Feb. 7, he and others on council were briefed by city staff on the project’s history, starting in 2008 with a Delcan report highlighting serious deficiencies with the bridge. The briefing also summed up the 2010 referendum where a majority of voters authorized the city to proceed with a loan of $49.2 million to replace the bridge.

Isitt, however, argues the landscape has changed.

“The (new) information we’ve received since previous decisions were made is the extent of the infrastructure challenges facing the city, including the firehall … and issues surrounding the Crystal Pool,” he said.

Isitt also argued the bridge design be strengthened so that it could be capable of one day supporting rail.

Mayor Dean Fortin, however, argues it’s not so simple.

Changing the width and weight of the bridge has implications for the lifting mechanisms, he said. “Now you’re back to redesigning a brand new bridge.”

“We need to recognize that we took all these questions out to the public in a referendum process… and they supported the borrowing for the bridge,” said Fortin. “We need to honour that and not continue questioning decisions.”

A redesign at this point also brings risks, he said.

“Delay is very, very expensive to us,” he said. “It’s losing $2 million in design, it’s putting $21 million of federal funding in jeopardy.”

Isitt, however, questioned whether the city would risk losing its grant if it redesigned the bridge.

On Feb. 16, council is expected to consider his motion to build the bridge strong enough to accommodate rail.

He says he’ll gauge support for scaling back the bridge design to bring down project costs, before putting forward a broader motion to this effect.