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Reply to Councillor Hunter

Dear Lynn,

Thank you very much for the response to my letter. I appreciate you taking the time to address my concerns.

You said in your response that replacing the bridge was the most “economically defensible” and sustainable option. You also pointed out that besides the need to seismically upgrade the bridge, electrical and mechanical systems require immediate attention. I would like to address these points further.

Having reviewed the document Johnson Street Bridge – By the Numbers I have questions about the relevancy of some the information presented. My understanding of the tax issue is that the city has recently reduced its overall debt causing a budget surplus. The costs of refurbishing or replacing the bridge will largely be covered with the existing tax load. It should be unnecessary to point out that this surplus could still be used for other projects or eliminated from the budget causing a tax decrease.

Perhaps the most important question arising from the document is the exclusion of a non-seismic refurbishment option. My understanding is that electrical and mechanical system could be upgraded for $8 million which, if possible, would be the most attractive option to me.

Councillor Luton responded to me that the liability the bridge represents to the city, in the way of lost lives from an earthquake, is simply too great to not include the seismic upgrade. He referred me to the document Design, Signage and Maintenance Guidelines: Waterfront Trail, Chapter 4 – Risk Management and Liability Issues. I responded that based on the language in the document it is not clear what the exact liability would be and that holding a referendum might constitute the city’s due diligence. The document states that the standard of care for municipal roads is dependent on “the economic means … and the requirements of the public”.

Furthermore, other city infrastructure and city-owned buildings such as City Hall and the Crystal Pool might represent larger seismic liabilities and therefore deserve a higher priority than the blue bridge. See my response in full here.

One last claim, in both your response and Johnson Street Bridge – By the Numbers, is that no federal funding is available for refurbishment. It should be noted that the Federal Government has not been asked to provide funding for refurbishment. Is there any reason to believe that this funding would be denied?

I would also like to address the sustainability issue. Your position seems to be that depending on cars is not sustainable so we therefore need to build infrastructure that moves us to bike and pedestrian traffic.  I whole-heartily agree that any reasonable municipality should adopt traffic to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians where safety and economic factors allow. I’m not certain if our city is “doing enough” in this regard but I certainly appreciate the work that has been done. In any case, if a full accounting of liability shows a non-seismic upgrade is possible, I simply don’t believe a full replacement is justified on “sustainability” alone.

I believe that in order for the city to provide honest information about the costs of refurbishment and replacement, a full disclosure of liability should be included. This would likely require an advisory board that also includes legal, economic, statistical and geological representation.

Again I would like to thank you for engaging me on this issue. I really appreciate the chance to present my views and concerns. I have posted your letter and my response on my blog assuming your permission. Please let me know if that’s a problem.

Saren Calvert