Bridge decision best given bad situation

Groans came from city taxpayers at news the estimated cost for the Johnson Street Bridge project had jumped by more than $15 million.

Groans came from city taxpayers and some councillors last week at news the estimated cost for the Johnson Street Bridge project had jumped by more than $15 million.

We don’t blame people for getting bent out of shape about the cost hike, especially when residents voted for a new bridge they thought was costing $77 million.

But there was good reason to bump the cost estimate for the bridge project up by a factor of 20 per cent.

Such factors as moving the Telus wiring duct under the old bridge, the requirement for a more detailed geophysical survey of the seabed, the contaminated soil disposition and the archaeological monitoring of the project by First Nations are aspects with floating costs.

The question is, could such extra costs have been anticipated before the referendum by either the city, or the company overseeing the project, MMM Group?

Perhaps. From the public’s response to the news, the city could have emphasized more clearly that the $77-million projected cost was only an estimate, and that it was entirely possible that it would increase by the time the project reached the building stage.

People don’t like being surprised by such things, especially when it has the potential to affect their pocketbooks.

City manager Gail Stephens assured two News staffers last week that the higher cost would not require a further burden on taxpayers. We sincerely hope that is true and remains so through the life of the project.

With a $92.8-million cost estimate now on the table, there is zero wiggle room left. The city needs to have a plan to address any further cost overruns.

That said, it’s time for the province to step up to the plate to help cover off the extra costs, especially since the federal government kicked in far more than it originally committed to.

The city must do its part to keep costs manageable, but let’s see the B.C. Liberals play a role in the funding equation.