Victoria begins tendering process for bridge project

City councillors hope competitive bidding process keeps costs from escalating further

After city council gave its blessing to the $15.8-million price hike for the new Johnson Street Bridge, staff wasted no time starting the search for a general contractor to get the work done.

On Friday, it posted a callout to companies interested in being shortlisted for the job, including demolition of the remaining bridge and construction of the new one.

The day before, city council grappled with the new $92.8-million project estimate, up from a previous estimate of $77 million.

While some couldn’t accept the higher price, a majority conceded to the escalation, hoping that a competitive procurement model will bring down costs. Council rejected two options for proceeding that promised possible savings, but left architectural features and even amenities such as bike paths at the discretion of the future contractor.

“When I came into the office today, my position was $77 million and not a penny more,” said Coun. Marianne Alto, at the public meeting. “I still have to say there’s a part of my head and my heart that doesn’t believe that we can’t build a bridge that has these (amenities) for $77 million. I think there’s a lot of people in the city who believe the same thing.”

The importance of staying on course to keep on schedule, however, helped to sway her vote.

At the recommendation of the city’s project director, Mike Lai, council approved what’s called a ‘design-assist’ delivery model.

That means the general contractor, to be hired in October, will build the bridge as designed by the project’s overseer, MMM Group. Council insisted, however, on flexibility to allow the contractor to make alterations to the design – as approved by the city – to save money.

Hiring the best engineering company for the job will be a two-step process.

First, the city will select three proponents from those that apply to their Request for Qualifications, posted online last Friday. Second, the selected teams will be invited to submit proposals.

“The proponents will have the opportunity to have confidential discussions with the city, with the view to explore design optimization from their perspective as builders, to provide further benefits to the city,” said John Haythorne, a Vancouver lawyer with expertise in negotiating infrastructure and construction contracts.

“It’s a way in which we can invite them to contribute their expertise as builders to the whole process.”

Finally, the city will enter into a fixed-price contract with the winning proponent.

Sasha Angus of the Greater Victoria Development Agency expressed confidence in the process.

“We’re encouraged that council has moved forward,” he said. “We think competition is the appropriate way to go … We’re encouraged they’re having multiple vendors take a stab at it.”

Councillors Geoff Young, Lisa Helps and Ben Isitt voted against adjusting the bridge project charter to reflect  new cost estimate.

“I can’t support enlarging the budget,” Isitt said. “I think the time to make the design change is now.”

Coun. Shellie Gudgeon was absent.

rholmen@vicnews.com

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