Before I leave the Johnson Street Bridge for the pleasures of the Dragon Boat Festival this weekend I thought I might attempt to summarize some of the issues. Briefly, City Council has decided to replace this bridge and has applied for substantial funding from other levels of government. However, there is growing concern that this is not a good decision nor has it been arrived at in consultation with citizens. Issues of concern include:
- Is there a need to replace the bridge?
The city's engineering department says the bridge is safe. But it clearly needs a substantial refurbishment. A seismic upgrade seems necessary also. The estimate for repairs/upgrades is around $25 million, though the accuracy of this estimate has been challenged.
- Is the bridge an important part of Victoria's image? This is very much a matter of opinion but many non-residents consider it to be an unusual and interesting feature of the city. Recently there was a full page photo of the bridge in an international airline in-flight magazine and there are numerous photos of it online. It is an unusual bridge.
- Does the bridge have heritage/historical significance?
Built in 1924 to a design by Joseph Strauss, a noted bridge designer, its heritage status would seem to be beyond question but I will refer you to an article by Architectural Historian Yule Heibel for a thorough discussion of this issue. Insofar as personal history is concerned, there is no doubt the bridge has nostalgic associations for many Victoria residents.
- If it is to be replaced will its replacement be attractive?
Even people not particularly in favour of keeping the bridge are concerned that the design of the replacement will be characterless, in a modern overpass style that will add nothing to Victoria's image. If it were well-maintained the present bridge would be much more attractive than in its present dilapidated state. If it were lighted at night it would be striking.
The estimate for a new bridge is currently set at $63 million vs. $25 million for repair/refurbishment of the old bridge. However, most of the funding for a new bridge is expected to come from other levels of government under current incentive programs, so that the two options (repair/replace) would cost Victoria taxpayers roughly the same. There is some concern that if the external funding were not to materialize the city's residents would be left facing a large debt. There are also people who feel that replacing the bridge is not as important an issue as homelessness, for instance, and that we should be dealing with the city's urgent human social needs before investing more in infrastructure relating to cars.