The new Johnson Street Bridge is the site of a celebration. [PNG Merlin Archive]
It’s a bridge for the next 100 years, a modern design that might one day carry self-driving, fuel-free cars.
“This bridge will last for generations,” Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said Saturday as she officially opened the new Johnson Street Bridge, a project a decade in the making.
Thousands of people gathered to take the first steps across the new link between downtown Victoria and Vic West.
“I think today is really a day of celebration,” she said. “It’s a day of looking at what does the next 100 years in Victoria look like with this bridge as our anchor?”
Helps cut a big, blue ribbon bearing the words, “Opening day, March 31, 2018” and held by Victoria councillors, mayors from across the region, engineers and project managers.
A horn sounded and the bridge was lowered to allow the crowd to stream across, led by a vintage 1924 fire truck from the same year the old bridge opened.
People walked and cycled across the pedestrian bridge over Esquimalt Road, then looped back to the old bridge, where picnic tables were set up under a spinning disco ball, and took in the music and activities.
Next to the blue bridge, rusting and lacking a fresh coat of blue paint due to its pending demolition, the new bridge appeared sleek and streamlined. The bridge’s one-of-a-kind design led to some problems, however: a higher price tag — now at $105 million, up from $63 million in 2009 — and a later opening date. It was originally scheduled to be completed in September 2015.
Gary Mullins, who spent 17 years as a bridge operator on the old span, described the Blue Bridge as a Model T and the new bridge as a Lamborghini. “It’s a beautiful work of art,” he said.
As to the long-standing debate over whether to repair or replace the old bridge, Mullins said he believes the city made the right choice. “Why put more money into a dead horse?” he asked.
Cyclist Brian Collier said he’s glad the new bridge was designed with bike lanes.
“And if you’re not comfortable with car traffic, you can go over to the multi-use trail and that hooks up to the Pandora bike lane,” Collier said. “So you can ride into town and feel comfortable and safe.”
But not everyone is thrilled with the new bridge.
Darelle Butler said she prefers the look of the old span. “I think it’s unique, I think it’s one of a kind,” she said.
Butler, who lives in downtown Victoria within view of the bridge, said she’s “not a huge fan of the new one,” noting that it obstructs the view of the city when raised.
Alex Olson thinks the bridge is “good looking,” but is furious with the final price tag. “I think the engineers took us for a ride,” he said.
He thinks the old bridge could have been revived. “It’s a landmark, it’s historical.”
Work on the bridge project isn’t quite finished. A dedicated pedestrian pathway on its south side will open this summer after the old bridge is demolished, said project manager Jonathan Huggett. The demolition is slated to start April 16 and will take two or three days.
The new, 46-metre bridge is the largest single-leaf bascule bridge in Canada.
If it lasts as long as promised, the Victoria city council of 2118 will be discussing whether to repair it or replace it. Your great-grandchild might be campaigning to preserve its unique, circle-pivot bascule design.
Victoria Coun. Chris Coleman said the new bridge will allow the city to forge into the future.
“I know people are bittersweet about the loss of Old Blue, but it’s served its purpose well. It served the community and its day has come to a close.”
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