An open letter to Jonathan Huggett regarding the Johnson Street Bridge project

By David Broadland, July 28, 2014

At a July 24 City of Victoria Council meeting, the bridge project's new director said all that's needed to get the project back on track is better leadership, better communication, and more money. In that spirit, Focus invites Jonathan Huggett to provide answers to 15 questions about the bridge's design, project schedule, federal funding and cost.

Dear Mr Huggett,

Congratulations on your appointment as the interim project director. After hearing your presentation to City of Victoria councillors on July 24, I’m hopeful your involvement with the project will initiate a freer flow of information between the project and the community. Focus Magazine has endeavored to fill significant gaps in that flow in the past by using the provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Although I understand your involvement will not completely eliminate the need to file FOIs for project-related records, I am hopeful your appointment as project director will result in the community getting more accurate, more timely, more objective information, and less need for FOIs.

Your presentation raised a lot of questions in my mind. You seem to accept that the cost for the project must go higher than the cost for which councillors have given their assent. There are many jobs that need doing, you seem to be saying, that won’t get done unless more money is made available. Yet, at the same time, you say the team assembled to build the bridge is an excellent team. All that’s needed, you seem to be saying, is better leadership, better communication, and more money.

Many people in the community, and I count myself among them, believe the price attached to the project has been consistently and intentionally low-balled at each stage of the project, from the outset. At successive turning points, a new increase in cost was accompanied by the threat of the loss of federal funding unless City council approval for the higher cost was given immediately.

As the price increased, year after year, the scope and complexity of the project decreased dramatically. Let me give you some examples: Rail was eliminated from the project in 2010. The width of the navigational channel was decreased by 6 metres in 2011. In 2012, a host of decreases in project scope were made: it was decided the bascule pier and the rest pier of the current bridge would be left in place, creating a more difficult navigational challenge for marine traffic; the complexity of the original Sebastien Ricard-designed structure was greatly simplified—seven-sided structural elements became 4-sided, etc; the walkway through the rings went from having the bridge deck open above it during lifting—a “world-class” feature according to the City’s pre-referendum promotional material—to having a fixed concrete slab above it; the approach bridges went from steel to concrete; the design life of the bridge went from a referendum-promised 100 years to an official 75 years; the official seismic design criteria went from the promised highest Lifeline standard to one which in which emergency vehicles might not have immediate use of the bridge following a Cascadia Subduction event; the bearing surfaces between rings and rollers went from simple curved tread plates to a mish-mash of hundreds of rustable steel parts mixed together with 4000 gallons of epoxy grout. As I said earlier, all these changes were also accompanied by an increase in cost.

These weren’t the only signs that project cost was being low-balled. The bid proposals from PCL’s competitors for the construction contract, Kiewit Infrastructure and Walsh Construction, both warned the City that the Indicative Design proposed by MMM Group was technically flawed and would, if the City pursued it, produce a high level of financial risk to the City. Despite the City spending $75,000 for each of these critical reviews, no substantial information about what these companies’ teams of engineers had said about MMM’s Indicative Design was given to City councillors at a closed Council meeting on November 16, 2012, when councillors were asked to approve entering into contract negotiations with PCL. Indeed, at that meeting, councillors were told a tiny 3.9 percent contingency contained in PCL’s bid was “normal” for a project at the procurement stage. Minutes of a December 31, 2012 closed council meeting, at which City staff recommended that councillors approve signing a contract with PCL, show that councillors were advised that MMM Group had reviewed the contract documents, including the contingency, and “in their professional opinion recommend the City proceed with the project and enter into a contract with PCL Westcoast.” Yet MMM Group, in its May 2, 2014 letter to the City recommending rejection of PCL’s request for an additional $7.9 million, now says that PCL’s optimized design was at best 10 percent complete, and PCL’s bid should have included a much higher contingency. MMM now suggest a 30 percent contingency would have been more appropriate. MMM’s dealings with its client seem clearly inconsistent. For its part, PCL knew its optimized design was at a preliminary state and costs could not be accurately assessed. Yet it apparently led the City into believing it was signing a fixed-price contract. What is the public to make of your claim that the City has assembled “the best brains” to build this bridge?

These facts—and they are all documented facts—do not seem to support your comments at the July 24 council meeting about the excellence of the team assembled to build the bridge. The team assembled to build the bridge seems to have a history of saying it could do something and then later saying it couldn’t.

If the team assembled to build the bridge is willing to provide such spectacularly untrustworthy information about what it can do and how much that would cost—two aspects of the project that team members must have known would be revealed in the lead-up to and during construction, why should there be any reason for the community to trust the team to be providing accurate information about the design of the bridge and its expected performance in the future, when the current team is long gone and the 2-year warranty is expired?

Engineers from Hardesty & Hanover made some verbal statements at a council meeting on April 10, 2014 that assured councillors—and the community—that the design of the bridge would not be problematic in terms of operation and long-term maintenance costs. One Hardesty & Hanover engineer assured Councillor Helps that there were 4000 moveable bridges that used epoxy grout in their construction, but the engineer didn’t name one of them. The same engineer told Councillor Helps that Hardesty & Hanover had “numerous schemes” for jacking the bridge in case bearings or other wearing parts needed replacement, but that engineer didn’t describe one of those schemes. Another Hardesty & Hanover engineer described the expected seismic performance of the bridge, but his verbal description was significantly different from the documented seismic design criteria MMM Group specified in its 2012 JSB Seismic Design Criteria. Is that verbal assurance more authoritative than a written specification? What is the community to believe? Who is looking out for the public interest?

I think that many in the community are hoping that you, Mr Huggett, are going to look out for the public interest.

Besides the doubts raised by the engineering teams at Kiewit Infrastructure and Walsh Construction, other engineers not directly involved in this project have raised various concerns about the design and have specified questions that City councillors ought to insist having answers to before assenting to additional expenditure of public money. These questions have not been adequately or definitively answered, and I have assembled them below in the hope that you will, in the spirit of the better communication you have said the project needs to exercise, provide detailed responses.

 

Questions

 

Seismic design criteria

1. Does MMM’s 2012 Seismic Design Criteria still apply? If not, could you please provide a copy of the new seismic design criteria that have been used in the current design of the bridge?

2. Will the City obtain the full seismic analyses done by Hardesty & Hanover, including the time history analyses for the three design seismic events listed in MMM’s Seismic Design Criteria, and make them publicly available so they can be scrutinized independently? (The analysis done by Professor Foschi in 2011 and included in the Appendix R of MMM’s July 2012 Final Project Definition Report is already available on the City’s website.)

 

Lifting mechanism

3. You said on July 24 that the lifting mechanism is “all fairly standard,” and you seemed to compare it with a “hydraulic sluice gate.” MMM’s Joost Meyboom has, in the past, likened this mechanism to that used in cement kilns and other industrial machinery. The new bridge is neither comparable to a cement kiln or a hydraulic sluice gate, and these comparisons are worrisome in their generality. What would be useful would be direct comparisons of specific features of the bridge design with other moveable bridges. For instance, can you provide any example where any of the following elements in the current design are part of the lifting mechanism of an existing moveable bridge?:

a. Axleless 50-foot-diameter rings with no physical connection between the rings below the plane of the highway deck, where the rings together support 1700 tonnes or more. (The worry here is that the rings will spread.)

b. 50-foot-diameter rings that roll in place on a bed of steel rollers. (Where has this mechanism been used at this scale on a bridge?)

c. A 12-inch-thick by 55-inch-wide by 80-foot-long curved slab of epoxy grout permanently sandwiched between the outside circumference of a 50-foot diameter steel ring and a series of steel plates, where the epoxy grout locks in place the steel fasteners which hold the steel plates to the rings and makes future inspection of the condition of those steel plates and fastenings impossible.

(Below are two photos of one of the Bellmouth Passage bridges at Canary Wharf in London, which MMM has said the new JSB’s design resembles. You will note there is no thick bed of epoxy grout or support segments in these photos. Each part of the support and drive machinery appears to be highly machined and not reliant on plastic filler for fit. All fasteners appear to be inspectable and removable. These much smaller bridges also have a heavy, curved steel plate connecting the rings through that portion of the ring’s circumference that supports the weight of the lifting portion of the bridge, thus preventing spreading of the rings. PCL eliminated that element from MMM’s Indicative Design.)

 

Bellmouth Passage Bridge mechanical scheme

 

 

 

 

Bellmouth Passage Bridge showing a curved steel plate connecting the rings4. Why was it necessary to move from the bolt-on tread plates envisioned in MMM’s Indicative Design to the highly-complex combination of multi-part support segments and the 12-inch-deep bed of epoxy grout in the current design? (PCL points out that the epoxy grout bed has increased to 414 percent of what it had initially proposed in its optimized design.) What has been gained in making this change?

5. The epoxy grout has a significantly different coefficient of thermal expansion than does steel. The grout will expand relative to the steel surfaces containing it, abraiding the bearing surfaces of the grout; the cross-bolts in the support segments will tend to fracture the grout, creating cracks where moisture can be trapped. Both these circumstances could allow corrosion of the cross-bolts and the surfaces of the rings and support segments. Voids created during the initial injection of the grout, and/or during its initial cure, could also potentially trap moisture and cause corrosion. Thereafter, what happens between the support segments and the rings will be forever hidden from view.

a. What provision has been made in the design for the inspection and repair of the hundreds of metal pieces that make up the support segments, including thru bolts, should corrosion occur?

b. If cyclical deformation of the rings, vibration caused by vehicle traffic, and cyclical thermal expansion/shrinkage of the epoxy grout should cause the epoxy grout to abraid, and necessitate its replacement, how would that replacement be accomplished?

6. Should the epoxy grout and/or support segments need to be replaced, the bridge will need to be lifted (jacked) in place. H&H have offered a general assurance that it has identified numerous jacking schemes. Could you provide the jacking scheme, in detail, that would be used in case the epoxy grout and steel support segments need to be replaced?

7. If the support segments and/or epoxy grout should need replacing, the bridge would need to be jacked for a period of time. It likely would be unavailable for use by vehicles and unable to operate for marine traffic. Can you provide a time estimate for replacing the support segments and the epoxy grout? Can you provide an estimated cost for replacing the grout and support segments? 

8. The lifting mechanism will be located below sea level, and because of the open counterweight pit, all steel parts will be subjected to saltwater spray and rainfall. The unprotected steel surfaces of the supporting rollers will tend to oxidize and wear away. These rollers may need replacing. What is the exact jacking scheme devised by H&H to allow replacement of one or more of the steel support rollers?

9. Similarly, the sealed roller bearings for the 42-inch-diameter steel rollers may need replacement. They will be rotating at approximately 14 times the speed of the rings, and under extremely heavy load. In the case a bearing should fail, what is the exact jacking scheme devised by H&H to allow replacement of a bearing or bearings?

 

Span lock alignment

10. The bascule rings float on their supporting rollers. Current construction drawings show a crane rail with a 160-mm crown rolling on a 180-mm-wide surface between side flanges. Depending on which way the wind is blowing and how fast, the bascule leaf could land 20 mm one way or the other. How will that play be accommodated in the span lock mechanism?

 

Security

11. Sebastien Ricard’s design called for the upper chords of the trusses to be seven-sided. That meant the upper surface of the trusses was very narrow and would have been uninviting for anyone to climb. The current design shows the upper surface of the trusses is flat, broad and slopes gently upward from the west side to the top of the rings. How will the City keep people from playing on the trusses?

 

Deformation of rings

12. In its contract with the City, PCL acknowledged expected “deformations,” presumably to the rings as they rotate. These expected deformations prompted Hardesty & Hanover to adopt a 32-roller support system that had both longitudinal and transverse flexibility to equalize pressures arising from those deformations. In the current design, the tranverse flexibility was eliminated. Does Hardesty & Hanover no longer believe that deformations of the rings is a problem?

 

Schedule and federal funding

13. The work schedule sent by PCL to the City in February showed the project would not be completed until September 2016. It is now apparent that PCL has already fallen about two months behind that schedule. Presumably that would push project completion to November 2016, assuming the rest of the critical path of the schedule proceeds smoothly. Since late 2009 City staff have insisted the $21 million Build Canada federal funding required project completion by March 2016, otherwise that funding would be “in jeopardy.” It appears the project is going to miss that federal deadline. Is the $21 million “in jeopardy”?

 

Cost

14. You made it clear on July 24 that to complete the project the City would have to be willing to pay more than the Council-approved budget of $92.8 million. You also said, “it’s my instinct this project’s contingency is gone.” PCL’s $7.9 million change order, plus the $650,000 the City has agreed to pay PCL for the retaining wall on the west side approach, would bring the total project cost to $101.3 million. You also suggested several potential additional costs, including more for MMM Group and Hardesty & Hanover, and you alluded to the likelihood that PCL will now be submitting additional change orders. Presumably the final cost could be considerably higher than $101.3 million. Would you agree that a final cost higher than $101.3 million is likely?

 

Condition of current bridge

15. The Delcan Report from April 2009 recommended either repair or replacement of the current bridge “within 3 years.” With the expected completion of a new bridge now apparently put off until late 2016, “within 3 years” has become “within 7 years.” Has an update on the condition of the current bridge been completed recently, and, if so, what has changed in the condition of the current bridge that has made repair or replacement “within 3 years” unnecessary?

 

Thank you in advance for your consideration of these questions. In the interests of transparency, I have posted this letter at http://focusonline.ca/?q=node/754. I will post your answers and any documentation you include when and as you can provide them.

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

David Broadland

publisher, Focus Magazine

 

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JSB Seismic Design Criteria Aug 17, 2012.pdf96.24 KB
PCL construction schedule January 2014.2.jpg229.63 KB