A worker on the Johnson Street Bridge project gives a celebratory gesture as the new bridge deck is lowered into place on the structure. Crowds watched in often heavy rains Sunday as the large component was installed. The work was delayed a day by winds on Saturday, leaving commuters to battle heavy traffic on Monday with the old bridge closed for the day while the weekend work was completed.Photo by Cameron Knowlton

Johnson Street project: A bridge to the future

Project director Jonathan Huggett weighs in on what's left to be done on Victoria project

After a busy couple of days of installations of major components on the new Johnson Street Bridge, the News caught up with project director, Jonathon Huggett for his thoughts on the undertaking as it draws closer to completion.

Huggett was first brought in by Victoria city council in 2014 to review the troubled project, after it became apparent that substantial problems existed within the structure and administration of the large-scale capital work. After delivering what some characterized at the time as a scathing review, Huggett was invited to take it over.

“Perhaps I should have just kept my mouth shut,” he laughed at the memory. “This has been a challenge, certainly. It’s always better to do something right from the start, rather than coming in fixing up mistakes.”

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But Huggett has nothing but praise for the existing team with whom he’s working on the final stages of construction.

PCL has brought in experts from all over North America who have done this kind of work before, he said, adding he is confident in the abilities and expertise of his current team. “There’s no sense looking backward and worrying about what should have been done in the past. We’re here now and still have work to do before the project is finished.”

With the bridge deck in place, among the next tasks is construction of the south side pedestrian/cycling paths, which cannot be completed while the old Blue Bridge is still standing.

As well, protective fendering of the bridge must be completed to prevent potential damage due to vessels colliding with it.

Huggett explained that the bridge mechanics will also be tested in a slow, methodical manner.

“We certainly won’t just be pushing a button and hoping the bridge goes up,” he said with a laugh. “The first time we raise it will be done over a matter of several hours, with a graduated approach that checks the rails inside the wheels and the gear contacts being inspected as the bridge is very slowly and incrementally raised.”

Huggett is certain that there will be some hiccups in the remaining work, although he had no idea what those might be. “There’s always something. But we’ll identify any problems and deal with them as they arise. That’s just the way these things work.”

His observations are based upon decades of experience in major projects around the world.

He recalled his first project in England 45 years ago, when, fresh from graduation, he was tasked with a highway project near Birmingham.

“It was my first site experience and I was paired with an older fellow – I imagine he was the age I am now – and he told me that I probably thought I knew all there was to know,” he said. “I agreed that I did, and he informed me that I knew nothing. Then he promised that he would teach me what I needed to know – and he did.”

Huggett drove that stretch of road a few years back, and still remembered his first project with some pride.

Since then, he’s worked on a variety of projects, including the Sky Train in Vancouver. When asked what his next job might be, he said he plans to think about that after completing this project. That includes ensuring the bridge has gone up and down a few times and traffic is safely rolling across the span.

“If I screw this one up, it’s all anyone will ever remember, and I won’t have to worry about the next job. That’s the nature of the profession,” he said, laughing again. “There are a lot of people with reputations on the line, and you’re always only as good as your last project.”

Find a photo gallery from the Sunday installation work on the Victoria News Facebook page.


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