In a city known for its history and heritage preservation, replacing an aging 90-year-old bridge is no easy task. Victoria’s Johnson Street Bridge has been a highly visible and recognizable landmark to the city’s harbour and downtown since 1924. Construction of its replacement is set to begin this year. It is the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken by the City of Victoria.
Located in the heart of downtown, the bridge crossing provides an important transportation corridor into Victoria’s central business, entertainment and tourism districts. It connects the growing residential area of Victoria West and neighbouring municipalities of Esquimalt, View Royal, Saanich, Colwood and Langford with Victoria’s downtown core.
With approximately 30,000 crossings taking place each day, including private and commercial vehicles, local transit, pedestrians and cyclists, the Johnson Street Bridge is one of the busiest and most important transportation routes in the area. On average, more than 4,000 pedestrians and 3,000 cyclists use the bridge to access Victoria’s downtown each weekday. Many who use the bridge connect from regional area trails, including the Galloping Goose, Lochside and E&N Rail trail.
Located over a federal waterway, the existing bascule lift bridge also serves the marine industry, commercial vessels and recreational marine users by providing access through the marine channel below.
A few years ago, a condition assessment of the aging bridge identified many issues common to other bridges built in the 1920s: extensive corrosion to steel structural beams, and obsolete mechanical and electrical systems. The assessment also noted significant seismic vulnerability as Victoria is located in an area with a high probability for an earthquake. It was determined a substantial investment in the bridge would be required to avoid further deterioration, increasing operational costs and possible closure.
Victoria city council considered many factors important to the community when determining the bridge’s future. These included safety concerns of the current bridge, heritage values, traffic and business disruptions, and accessibility needs for pedestrians and cyclists. After extensive public consultation, city council decided to build a new bridge.
The new bridge will be built to serve the community for the next 100 years. It will provide improved safety and accessibility for cyclists, pedestrians and those who use mobility aids. By building a bridge with on-road cycling lanes and an accessible multi-use trail, the bridge will encourage more citizens to commute by walking or cycling to access the downtown.
One of the unique features of this project is the new bridge will be built just north of the existing one. By allowing the existing bridge to remain open throughout construction, the need for detours and traffic delays will be significantly reduced and will support the continued economic vitality of Victoria’s downtown and central business district. These were two important factors considered when Victoria chose to replace the bridge rather than refurbish it.
Once complete, the new bridge will be one of the largest single-leaf lift bridges in Canada – and in the world, creating a new iconic structure and attraction for Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
The new bridge will include three traffic lanes, on-road bike lanes, a multi-use trail for pedestrians and cyclists, a separate pedestrian deck allowing for better views towards downtown and the harbour, and improved accessibility with widened sidewalks for pedestrians, strollers, walkers and wheelchairs. The bridge will also feature new and improved plaza areas for the public to view the harbour detours and traffic delays, incorporate traffic calming features and be built to a lifeline seismic standard.
In addition, a public art piece and a new park are planned enhancements to the area as a result of the bridge project.
The Urban Development Institute estimates construction of the new bridge will have long-term local economic benefits in excess of $500 million. This includes economic benefits from new developments and overall revitalization of the area.
PCL Constructors Westcoast has been contracted to build the new bridge. Work is expected to begin this summer and is scheduled for completion by the end of 2015.
Ken Jarvela is the senior project manager for the City of Victoria’s Johnson Street Bridge replacement project.