Sexy Spending!! - by Mike Creasy
City Fathers (and mothers) have decided that the "blue bridge" must be replaced, before we have a replay of the 1896 collapse of the Point Ellice bridge, when 55 people were killed when an electric streetcar plunged into the Upper Harbour. An inquiry at the time held the City and the streetcar operator both at fault; the City was cited for failure to maintain the structure, and the operator was faulted for overloading the cars.
The Point Ellice bridge was built by the Province in 1885 to carry vehicular traffic only - mostly horse-drawn carriages and delivery drays. Rails were laid later, apparently without any consultations with the builders and without any effort to strengthen the structure. In 1891, it was turned over to the City.
Following the disaster, the Consolidated Electric Railway Company went into receivership and was later incorporated into the BC Electric Railway Company, which was started in 1891.
The blue bridge at Johnson Street was designed and built by the City in the early 1920s. Financing was split three ways, between the Province, the City and the CPR (operator of the Esquimalt-Nanaimo railway). Since it opened in 1923, the City has had full responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the road bridge side, while some of the maintenance for the rail bridge seems to have remained with the CPR.
Approaches to the bridge were built to accommodate the rail alignment, resulting in that nasty little depression/curve on the western end.
Discussions about whether to repair or replace the blue bridge were often accompanied by tales of how rusted and weak the old structure had become. Steel flanges you could see through, lift machinery with 2 inches of runout in the main shaft, and other juicy stories. Support for the replacement idea was offered by a look at other structures built around the same time, which have fallen down or rusted away long ago. The Eiffel Tower (1889), the Empire State Building (1930), the RMS Queen Mary (1934), the Golden Gate Bridge (1937), the Brooklyn Bridge (1883), the Panama Canal (1914), etc, etc.
What's that you say? All these things are still with us? How can this be???
This isn't a problem that's unique to Victoria. Politicians everywhere have little interest in funding infrastructure maintenance. It just isn't sexy to approve spending money on things that are still working - much more exciting to announce the building or buying of something new, state-of-the-art, requiring lots of trips to far away places to see what it looks like. Maintenance can be deferred. If it gets too bad, we'll apply for the next big capital grant program to build a new one.
So, we're getting a new bridge to replace an old one. The new one should last a few years. Maybe longer if it's maintained like the Eiffel Tower....
Victoria Colonist archives
Twenty Nine Years of Public Service, BC Electric Railway Co., 1925 (online archive)