NWT Highways Construction Update

Inuvik & Tuktoyaktuk had good news from the Government of the Northwest Territories this fall. Wally Schumann, minister of NWT’s transportation says there’ll be an official ribbon cutting ceremony for the completion of an all-weather road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk in November 2017.

“This winter, the contractor will be entering its fourth and final season of construction, and the highway is expected to open to traffic in fall 2017,” he said.

The Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway has been a major priority for the territorial and federal governments since the 1960s and construction of a 120-km long two lane highway finally began in January 2014. EGT Northwind, a joint venture of two Inuvialuit-owned companies – E. Gruben Transport and Northwind Industries – was awarded the $229 million contract. 

One crew started work from the northern end at Tuktoyaktuk while another crew worked from the southern end at Inuvik. In a major milestone, the two crews met in the middle of the route this past April in 2016.

When the final tallying is done, the total cost will be $299 million including environmental and geotechnical studies, royalties and other expenses (construction costs alone will account for the bulk of the budget at $229 million). 

The project employed many people in a region where jobs are hard to find.

“Oil and Gas [activity] is very depressed and if wasn’t for the highway construction work there would have been a lot of hardship in that region,” said Schumann. 

“We trained and employed a lot of people on that project. Upwards of 600 people were working at the peak construction time during winter.” 

Other benefits of the new highway will accrue to populations living in Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk – they can get around faster and more cheaply. Movement of goods will be cheaper too thereby lowering the cost of living. Economic opportunities will be plentiful as the new highway paves the way for hydrocarbon and other mineral development as well as tourism to the region.

Two other long-discussed highway projects in the NWT are the Tlicho all-season road (or, as Minister Schumann prefers to call it, the Whati Road), and the Mackenzie Valley Highway between Wrigley and Norman Wells. Both await confirmed project financing. 

The GNWT has been working with the Tlicho Government for several years to advance the 97-kilometre two-lane gravel road with an estimated $150 million price tag, which would not only give all-year round access to Whati but also benefit nearby Wekweeti and Gameti by significantly increasing the length of operation of their winter roads.

The NICO mine project in the Tlicho region, holding the promise of 235 full time jobs, would get a much-needed boost by the highway as would the region’s tourism with its spectacular waterfalls and other natural attractions.

“We have submitted a proposal to P3 Canada and are waiting to hear back,” said Schumann. “Hopefully, we will find out in 2017.”

In the meantime, the DOT is working on engineering and environmental analyses including an environmental assessment by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board.

The Sahtu region between Wrigley and Norman Wells is currently served by the Mackenzie Valley winter road. Climate change is playing havoc making the winter road season shorter and less reliable. The need for an all-weather road continues to grow with each year.

Aside from the increased access to residents of the area, the benefits of year-round access of this $700 million highway are many: major oil and gas, mineral and metal resource development; the opening of hydroelectric power opportunities; and strengthening of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty by demonstrating importance of the region to the nation.

Not only has the DOT submitted a P3 case for financing of this part of the Mackenzie Valley Highway, it has also sent a business case to Infrastructure Canada.

“It’s going to take significant funding just to do the EIA,” said Minister Schumann. “Whichever proposal is accepted first, we’ll take.”

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