The challenge of the Johnston Bridge

May 18, 2022
Council Column

Oh, if life were easy as the experts on social media make it out to be …

Many people have opinions about lots of things. Unfortunately, most of these passionately offered opinions show little understanding of the complexities of the challenges confronting your elected Council. They also distract and upset people unnecessarily.

Johnston Bridge is a classic case in point. Last week Council approved seeking a federally funded grant for $6 million toward the $11.4 million cost estimate to repair this bridge. Social media experts and others in the community had many opinions about this situation; including claims that this amount of money would build us a new bridge, which is simply not true, as a new bridge would likely be over $30 million. Of course, the main opinion many of these people share is that Council’s dithering has resulted in a doubling of the cost of the bridge repairs from the original 2018 estimate of $5.5 million and that Council should have “just fixed the bridge” when we found out it was compromised on October 3, 2018.

As you will see in the timeline below, a lot of engineering and specialist work was needed to assess the:

  • extent of the corrosion of the bridge ends,
  • state of the bridge piers, 
  • options for all the utilities that cross the bridge, and 
  • cost estimates for all this work, including mechanisms for the City to pay for it: go to referendum, seek grant funding or deplete City reserves? 

In the meantime, Council has other large expenditures and projects to discuss and finalize.

In 2018, Council approved the 5-year capital plan before knowing the bridge was compromised. It included a plan to go to referendum for the full replacement of the #1 Firehall (estimated at over $10 million). Fortunately, we received a major grant to help fund a renovation of the Firehall instead of a full replacement (approximately $5 million).

That same year, Council was also undertaking a comprehensive review of the City’s waste management system with the understanding that significant costs (tens of millions of dollars) were in the near future due to new provincial regulations for methane gas capture/disposal, leachate treatment, and landfill closure costs. 

In addition to these major financial risks in the existing capital plan, in May of 2019, Health Canada changed its Manganese standards for drinking water, which placed Quesnel’s water system above the maximum acceptable concentrations. We need to understand what upgrades and facilities are needed in case we are required to treat the City’s water ($25 million in 2021).

Trying to fit an unforeseen major capital expenditure into an already stretched and very challenging capital plan was no easy task for Council, especially if the full costs had to be absorbed by the City alone, as this would have required a referendum. Luckily, a grant is now open that will potentially pay for half of the Johnston Bridge and Council’s prudent fiscal management will enable the City to cover the other half from existing reserves.

In short, as you’ll see in the timeline below, there was no dithering by Council on the Johnston Bridge, it was an issue that was being actively pursued along with all the other capital challenges the City faces.

Johnston Bridge Timeline

  • Fall 2018 City made aware of deterioration on Johnston Bridge and on October 3, 2018 closed bridge and then reopened with a 10 tonne restriction on October 9, 2018.
  • November 3, 2018 an order of magnitude repair options report was received for consideration. November 5, 2018 the City Manager provided a report to Council. An inspection following this report identified corrosion to the girders at the south end of the bridge which had been missed/unidentified in the earlier inspection reporting.  
  • February 2019 the City received a copy of the completed Detailed Load Evaluation Report.
  • Summer 2019 Bathymetry Survey was completed using specialized equipment which maps the river bottom. This was necessary in order to complete a foundation assessment for the bridge piers.
  • October 2019 results of the bathymetry survey and a Scour Assessment Report for the bridge foundation was received.
  • 2020 a plan for erosion mitigation at the bridge piers and also at the toe of the north abutment was engineered and drawings sealed by bridge engineer.
  • 2021 ongoing City coordination with third party utilities regarding planning and engineering for scheduling removal/relocation of their utilities in order to complete bridge repairs. The main south to north Telus fiber which feeds all of Quesnel including the downtown core is attached to this bridge. A gas main critical to Fortis infrastructure supply also crosses the Quesnel River on this bridge. The City water main which supplies Johnston Sub and beyond crosses this bridge as well.
  • 2021 Capital project funding was secured for $150,000 to complete erosion protection rock work. Environmental Management Plan and permitting application to the province and fisheries was submitted and approval received in the fall. 
  • May 11, 2021 results of the revised repair options and life cycle analysis report was presented to Council and the comprehensive repair option was selected. Council directed staff to update the cost estimate for this option. 
  • August 2021 the repair option cost was revised and a site visit scheduled with the bridge engineer and preferred contractor to confirm probable costs.
  • October 2021 site visit with bridge contractor, engineer, and City verified existing costed repairs and in addition to this, identified substantial concrete repairs needed to the north abutment, bridge railing, and pedestrian sidewalk. City Utility works and off bridge civil work were also identified.
  • February 2022 rock work to the bank at the north abutment and pier protection erosion mitigation measures were completed at low water within the approved permit parameters.
  • April 2022 all in cost estimate was updated and then presented along with a grant funding resolution to Council at the May 10, 2022 meeting.

Mayor Bob Simpson

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