A new downtown icon: the Johnson Street Bridge

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Driving by the Victoria Harbour, from the picturesque Vic West community and into downtown Victoria, it is almost impossible to miss the landmark Johnson Street Bridge with its rusted, sky-blue paint and overhanging counterweight block. If all goes according to plan in the replacement project, a new Johnson Street Bridge will open to the public in late 2015. The replacement bridge, connecting the neighbourhood of Vic West to downtown Victoria, is being built next to the original one. Installation of the new bridge’s first foundation pieces started on Oct. 30. Foundation installation is anticipated to continue until February 2014. The original bridge will remain accessible until the new one is completed.

According to City of Victoria plans, the new Johnson Street Bridge will include “on-road bike lanes, a multi-use trail, (and) a pedestrian pathway.” It will aim to improve accessibility for all users, including those using mobility aids. The new bridge will also have a built-in plaza with a view to the harbour. It will include an “improved navigation channel for marine vessels,” and will be built to the highest standards of bridge-building code in Canada. It is supposed to withstand an 8.5-magnitude earthquake, fulfilling Lifeline seismic building standards. An art piece installation and a public green space is also planned to be built around the bridge area.

The structure is designed as a bascule bridge with a built-in bascule pier (the part of the bridge that opens to let large marine vessels pass). The large steel pipe foundation installed will become a part of the 16 pipes forming the foundation of the bascule pier. When complete, says the City, the new Johnson Street Bridge will be the “largest single-leaf bascule bridge in Canada, and one of the largest in the world.”

The building of the bridge has been contracted to PCL Constructors Westcoast, a branch of the construction company PCL Constructors, Inc. They have made the decision to have the bascule leaf part of the bridge fabricated by ZTSS (Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure Co.), a leading contractor of steel structure projects based in the Jiangsu province of China. Other supplies, such as concrete, will be sourced locally from Vancouver Island, and local firms will carry out subcontracting jobs. PCL Constructors will also be recruiting for trade positions on the island. The Canadian engineering firm MMM Group was contracted as well to “provide services for design and project management of the work through to completion.”

In order to work in the ideas of citizens, a Citizen Advisory Panel was formed in February 2010. Meant to represent the diverse community of the area, the members of the panel assist City staff in making decisions and developing plans.

On Nov. 20, 2010, citizens of Victoria voted in a referendum to approve the borrowing of $49.2-million for the replacement bridge. 10 မ020 people (60.6 per cent) voted “Yes” to the borrowing. This was after the City, along with the Advisory Panel, studied whether to build a replacement bridge or rehabilitate the existing one. However, on johnsonstreetbridge.org, a website dedicated to discussing independent information about opinions on the bridge, people still object to building a new bridge. Some citizens hold a strong conviction that the current “Blue Bridge,” as it is amiably nicknamed, should be refurbished to maintain it as a city historical icon and as an attractive street-art feature.

Supporters and planners of the new bridge hope it will be an incredible new sight downtown and its construction will also provide large economic benefits for the surrounding communities. According to the Urban Development Institute (UDI), the bridge will encourage opportunities worth up to $500 million in the downtown and Vic West area. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates the creation of 900 short-term jobs with this project.

Just as the original bridge has become a landmark in the city, the future Johnson Street Bridge is planned as a sight-to-see and a proud new icon of Victoria.

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