Victoria council requests more oversight on bridge building

Proposals to win bridge contract delayed by a month

The three companies vying to build a new Johnson Street Bridge are busy perfecting their bids.

But the role of Victoria’s elected officials in the decision to select a winner was the source of a lengthy closed-door discussion Thursday.

Coun. Ben Isitt expressed concern that city council will not be presented information about all the proposals submitted, but instead will only be informed about the bid recommended by city staff. Council’s role will then be to approve or reject the recommendation.

“I can understand why disclosure to public would be problematic, but can you explain why disclosure to council is problematic?” Isitt asked.

City lawyer Tom Zworski felt the answer required a closed-door meeting, and council voted to retreat to a private room. The discussion held up Thursday’s public governance and priorities committee meeting for nearly two hours, after which council returned to report on a compromise.

Council will now have two decision points. Once members approve a proposal, based on staff’s recommendation, the bridge team will then negotiate the exact terms of the contract with the winning proponent. Council will then have a second opportunity to approve or reject this contract.

Coun. Lisa Helps is satisfied with the new terms.

Not getting the chance to weigh all three bids will be “hard to stomach,” she said. But she acknowledged that the evaluation committee has the right people on the team and councillors don’t have the expertise needed to evaluate engineering proposals.

“I feel very confident in this process,” she said.

The whole selection process has been postponed by approximately one month.

In late August, the city extended the closing date for receipt of proposals for the bridge contract. The three companies shortlisted for the opportunity were granted until Oct. 18 to submit their fixed-price proposals.

The extra month allows proponents more time to ‘discuss potential design optimizations with the City,’ according to city communications staff. Once the deadline passes, the city’s bridge team will take several weeks to evaluate the three proposals before taking its recommendations to council.

As of last week, the project is progressing under the direction of a new senior project manager. Ken Jarvela, who started Sept. 17, was hired after Mike Lai resigned from his post as project director July 6.

Jarvela is a civil engineer who was recently project manager for the $160-million Blue Water Bridge project spanning the St. Clair River between Ontario and Michigan.

rholmen@vicnews.com