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Reply from Councillor Luton

Hi Saren,

Thanks for your letter on the Blue Bridge.

With respect to the issue of the project being a vote determinant for any individual, I am sure you can appreciate that we must base our decisions on the information presented to council and our assessment of the best course of action to serve the broader public interest rather than the mere gauging of public sentiment alone.  Many people I have spoken to strongly support replacement and choosing between the two mutually exclusive perspectives is impossible.

I continue to support replacement of the bridge.

The cost issue has, unfortunately, been poorly represented in media coverage, not necessarily for our lack of trying.  We have a moral and legal responsibility to act on hazards posed by municipal infrastructure and I am sure you will know from your own academic background that we are in a very seismically active region.  (You have a typo, by the way, in your Mount Rainier paper – it says “vocano” where it should say “volcano” in the first paragraph of the “History” section on page 1.)

We cannot dispense with the seismic work necessary to protect the crossing in the event of an earthquake, which, after having done our homework on the true costs of refurbishment, makes preserving the bridge nearly as costly as replacement.  In terms of potential economic impact, it is more importantly a significant liability that the city must address.

The bridge is uniquely the responsibility of the city while other issues you have enumerated are more regional in nature.  We have put more money into housing and tackling homelessness than any other council in the history of the city and will continue to invest in projects and programs to meet our objectives in that field.  Our contributions to housing trust funds and the projects we have helped to leverage will far exceed the value of the bridge project in dollar terms and they are coming from regional and provincial sources as they should.  Homelessness is not exclusive to the city and solutions need to be developed not just regionally, but also with help from provincial and federal governments.

Likewise, sewage treatment plans are advancing, and this is a regional project and will be funded from different sources, including federal and provincial programs, that will help us address the impacts our sewage is having on the marine environment.  Had we done so in 1983 (when a referendum was defeated), it would have cost us about $200 million.  Now it will cost us $1 billion.  I’m not sure the delay was fiscally prudent.  We will, however, gain some advantages from currently planned projects, including resource recovery that can help us meet some of our energy needs without having to resort to offshore oil, (which you are aware poses significant environmental and public policy challenges).

A new bridge will be built to the highest seismic standards currently prescribed by federal and provincial building codes.  We expect that of structures and developments that we govern through zoning etc.; we cannot apply a lesser standard to our own infrastructure.  As far as municipal assets go, there is likely nothing more important than the bridge.  We have ongoing projects to assess and upgrade other municipal facilities and, of course, many other buildings in the city are either privately held or the responsibility of other levels of government.  The province for example, despite pleas of poverty, continues to upgrade our schools to meet current seismic standards.  Our condition assessment on the bridge indicates that there is significant potential for loss of life and on that premise, we are compelled to act.

We cannot, as you suggest, wait until the earthquake to bring the bridge down.  The legal liabilities would likely be in the hundreds of millions, not only because of the loss of life civil suits, but because of the economic impact to the city.  For a more comprehensive discussion of our liability exposure, please visit my personal website at http://www.johnluton.ca/ where I have loaded up my research on municipal liability.

You’ll also find information on another page there about climate change and the bridge.  Preserving the bridge is only sustainable (and that is certainly questionable when assessing life cycle impacts), if you forget that it is a bridge and it carries traffic.  It is an ongoing liability in our efforts to create a sustainable transportation system, and will continue to frustrate efforts to shift our travel choices to more sustainable modes for as long as we hold onto the current design.  I have no interest in preserving a model that favours cars and trucks over all other modes for 30 or 40 more years, let along indefinitely.

There are other issues that we have had to consider in evaluating our options and making our decision to replace the bridge.  I am continuing to work on some more comprehensive reports to share and will post them on my site and/or at http://johnluton.blogspot.com/  I encourage you to visit and read through some of the material.  While you may not support my decision, I hope you will at least understand the work I have done to inform my vote on this important issue.

John Luton, Councillor
City of Victoria