Engineering and Community


By Anna Guy

A new iconic structure and destination within Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

It’s not every infrastructure project that gets the public to come out in the thousands to celebrate.

But the March 31, 2018 official opening of the new Johnson Street Bridge in Victoria, BC, drew over 15,000 community members, eager to take the first steps across the bridge between downtown Victoria and Victoria West.

“It was a tremendous celebration,” says Jonathan R. Huggett, the engineering consultant on the project. “This bridge will be here for at least the next 100 years and will serve as an anchor to the community.” An official ribbon cutting ceremony was staged, after which the bridge lowered to allow pedestrians on for the inaugural day, led by a vintage 1924 fire truck, the same year the old bridge opened.

Time for Change

In 2010, after extensive public consultation, City Council of Victoria made the decision that the old bridge needed replacement: extensive corrosion to steel structural beams, obsolete mechanical and electrical systems and
seismic vulnerability left no other option. The $105 million project was awarded to PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc., the largest contracting organization in Canada with vast experience building large scale bridges across North America. WSP Canada Group did the design, as did Hardesty & Hanover.

Community interest in the bridge grew from the onset of construction. Completed in the “fish bowl” of downtown Victoria around the existing Johnson Street Bridge, there was a live stream web cam set up for the public to view progress at any time. 900 Victorians received new short-term jobs, not to mention the half of a billion dollars expected to be generated from the economic development from the project.

Complex Project

But perhaps the most unique element to the construction was watching the bridge’s massive steel pieces coming into the harbour from places like China, France and Belgium. An infrastructure specialist with over 25 years’ experience in North America and Europe in both government and private sector organizations, Huggett offers a unique perspective. “I’ve worked on projects as big as $4 billion, whereas this project was ‘only’ $100 million, but it was one of the most complex projects that you could ever imagine,” says Huggett.

First, Huggett remarks, it was one of the first bridges of its kind and is the largest single-leaf bascule bridge in Canada and one of the largest in the world (more commonly referred to as a “draw bridge”, where a leaf rises and lowers to let in maritime traffic). The huge steel bridge has six main components: two rings, two forward trusses, a counterweight and the steel deck. A crane, nicknamed “The Beast” for its 900-tonne capacity, had to be specially constructed to help put the pieces together.

“The design had never really been done by anyone else before, so it was innovative,” says Huggett. “And the fact that you had steel parts assembled from pieces from all over the world was very unique.”

The global aspect of the bridge will be reflected in people from all over the world using the bridge when visiting the world-class city. According to the City of Victoria, approximately 30,000 crossings taking place each day, including vehicles, local transit, pedestrians and cyclists, making the Johnson Street Bridge one of the busiest and, therefore, 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,” reported “The Urban Development Institute believes the new bridge will encourage and strengthen development opportunities estimated to be in excess of half a billion dollars in Victoria West and downtown Victoria.”

The infrastructure project will also usher in a wave of revitalization, with reclaimed land creating new public spaces, parks, and pathways on both sides of the bridge as was deemed a priority after public consultation.

Engineering, community, economics, and legacy. Infrastructure projects such as the Johnson Street Bridge carve the character of the country. Built for future generations, the bridge will be a lasting legacy for Victoria.