Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Bridge

Today is the last day you can send in your comments to the City in their process.  Council will make their decision on Thursday of refurbish or replace.

What I find interesting is how generally quiet the pro refurbishment forces have been in the last four to six weeks but at the same time groups in favour of replacement have been coming out of the woodwork.   We have heard from the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition in favour of a new bridge.

I am not surprised that the Chamber is in favour of the new bridge given that the refurbishment option will mean a full bridge closure and have some impact on retailers downtown, but given the scale of the estimated losses due to a closure, I think this is a red herring.   The estimated losses are so low in comparison to total sales that I do not think it will be noticed.   Furthermore, in the same time period several hundred more people will be living downtown from the new developments and should more than offset any losses due to the bridge closure.

I am also not surprised the Greater Victoria Cycling coalition has come out in favour of a new bridge.   I am fully aware of the problems the current bridge is for cyclists as I have ridden over it, or I should say wheeled my bike over it.   I also suspect that they are very much influenced by John Luton.   I am not convinced by their arguments for a new bridge as there is no problem re-purposing the rail span for a very decent bike access over the bridge.

Both the arguments made for a new bridge are in my opinion not serious arguments.   Good arguments would be ones that focus on costs, traffic patterns and long term impact on the city.  The costs argument is borderline, a new bridge is a marginally better deal than refurbishing, but this has to be balanced against the values the heritage bridge brings versus the new bridge.   The rebuilding of the access roads to the bridge is an important change needed.  The refurbishment option does not make changes to the roads.

Assuming the costs for the project are dealt with in a way that contains their impact, I would be inclined to support the replacement bridge for the improvements to the road approached on either side of the bridge.  I remain worried that the council has ruled out a P3 for the bridge.    I can only hope that the City tendering process is one that has fixed price contracts for the project with hard deadlines and financial penalties for missing them or going over budget.

One positive point in either option is the removal of the rail link over the water.   Removing this will finally take the focus off of the E&N as a viable option for transit and put it where it belongs, on the Douglas - Highway #1 corridor.
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