big bad blue bridge
In 2009 city council decided to borrow $42 million to replace the blue bridge at a total cost of $63 million. On the 4th of January, 2010 citizens delivered 9872 valid counter-petitions — more than 10% of voters — preventing the borrowing bylaw from going ahead. At the Victoria City Council meeting later that week, the mayor remarked that we do not know the specific reason why people signed the petition. People may have signed the petition because they opposed the cost of the replacement bridge, or they may have opposed replacing the bridge due to its unique design and heritage value.
The city is drafting a new Downtown Core Area Plan Project. The introductions states:
"The City will use this Plan to evaluate the impact and suitability of public and private projects and initiatives related to land use, development, infrastructure and transportation, and will review all private and public projects and initiatives for their ability to help achieve the Plan's vision and goals."
- Introduction, p. 3
"recognizing historic buildings for their value and benefit to the Downtown Core Area, and encouraging their rehabilitation, seismic upgrading and integration with new development."
- Chapter 1, p. 11
Chapter 7 discusses heritage in detail and contains the following quotes:
"The conservation of built heritage is a cornerstone of community sustainability."
- Chapter 7, p. 71
"Built heritage is also significant in urban design and development because the historic fabric is the foundation upon which a city builds a sense of place."
- Chapter 7, p. 71
"identify, protect and conserve historic buildings, ensembles, streetscapes, structures, landscapes and features of heritage value in the Downtown Core Area."
- Chapter 7, p. 74
The Core Area plan places great importance on built heritage, and specifies that the guidelines in the document will be used in public projects related to infrastructure and transportation. This document is a draft, which means that it reflects the views of current city staff who are its authors. This document specifies in the introduction that it replaces the Downtown Victoria Plan of 1990, which was updated in 1995. The Official Community Plan contains language similar to p. 74 of the draft document:
"To encourage the preservation and conservation of those sites, buildings and structures that are of architectural and historical significance."
- Official Community Plan (1995), p. 7.4
This demonstrates that city planners place great value on heritage. Have city planners considered the guidelines in these planning documents they wrote when considering the replacement of the historic Johnson St. Bridge? I contacted city staff via email on August 3rd, 2010 to ask. Don Schaffer replied to say,
Your email was forwarded to Mayor and Council for consideration. It was also forwarded to the City Manager and General Manager of Operations for their consideration and a response to you.
Having not received an answer on August 6th, I replied to Mr Schaffer, thanking him for responding and asking for a response. I have received no response from anyone at the city, which is disappointing as city staff have always responded helpfully to my questions within a few days.
Considering that heritage is important to city planners, citizens such as myself and others I've spoken with, and probably a significant portion of the 9872 people who signed the counter-petition, it is surprising that city council and staff have not seriously considered keeping the heritage bridge. Also, I and likely many of the counter-petition signers are also concerned about spending more on a bridge than any other project in city history, costing between 2 and 3 times as much as the $28 million spent on the Arena. An Ipsos Reid survey commissioned by the city shows that the public is most interested in the cost (p. 31).
The Tower Bridge in London — the city's only lifting bridge — is undergoing a restoration which includes wrapping the bridge, removing all the paint and repainting the suspension chains with up to six layers of paint. The pricetag for this is £4 million ($6.5M CAD) — a paltry sum when compared to the estimate of $80 million to repair the Johnson St. Bridge. The citizens group which collected the counter-petitions details the repair of a bridge in Kingston very similar to our own for only $3.1 million.
An inexpensive option to clean the rust and repaint the bridge is conspicuously missing from the options presented to the public. Late last year, I signed the counter petition against borrowing $42 million to avoid spending a ludicrous amount of money replacing a heritage bridge. Later this year, on November 20th I will be voting against the referendum to borrow $49.2 million (7 million more than before!) for the same reasons. I wonder how the other 9871 people who signed the counter-petition will vote.