Status Tuk

Daily Parse | It may be a while before Canada’s all-year road to the Arctic lives up to its billing

In hindsight, green would have been a better choice (Photo: Government of Northwest Territories)

Kevin McGwin

Travellers between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk are no strangers to intermittent roads. For half a century, the overland route between the two towns in the Northwest Territories disappeared each spring when the ice of the Mackenzie River, which served as its roadbed, thawed.

That inconvenience was due to have been a thing of the past with the opening of the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway in November. Built at a cost of C$300 million ($234 million), the 138km stretch of gravel road was celebrated as the ‘first all-weather road to Canada’s Arctic coast’.

This breaks down to C$2.2 million per kilometre. Upkeep will also be dear. Costing as much as C$15,000 per kilometre, the all-year road is expected to require C$1 million more per year to maintain than it took to establish and maintain the ice road.

Such costs are justified by more than just convenience alone. Part of the argument for the 2012 decision to set aside funding to build the road was that it is a vital means for Ottawa to enforce its sovereignty in its Arctic territories.

The other big benefit is that it will serve as a catalyst for economic development. Most immediately this will be by making it easier for visitors to travel to Tuktoyaktuk. It the longer term, officials in Ottawa and Yellowknife hope it will open up the region to mining exploration. And now that the road is complete, boosters of an Arctic deep-water port say there is a good argument for placing it in Tuktoyaktuk.

The highway will also make it easier for oil and gas explorers to extend further north, though the offshore drilling it was once expected to lead to is unlikely after Ottawa, in 2016, imposed a moratorium on such activity.

As it turns out, the description of the road is only half right. Travelling further north than Tuktoyaktuk still involves getting your feet wet. But, starting in late April, territorial transport authorities began issuing half-day closures after rain and warm temperatures turned the surface to mud.

The half-day closures meant travellers could only use the road between midnight and noon, when cold night-time temperatures made the surface firm enough to drive on safely.

Merle Carpenter, a transport official responsible for the area where the highway is located, explained to the CBC, a broadcaster, while apologising for the disturbances, that the closures were not unexpected: a new road is more likely to become impassable than an older one with a more compacted surface. Other officials have warned that drivers should prepare for a repeat of the situation for the next few years.

This year the situation, rather than improving, has seen the road completely closed since May 12. No date for a reopening is expected, though it has been suggested that it could remain closed until autumn.

Were that to happen, it would mean that, in its first year at least, progress meant going in reverse: in the years up to its discontinuation, the ice road typically opened around 1 October and closed on 29 April.


  • New Arctic coast highway connects Tuktoyaktuk to the rest of Canada
    The National, CBC News


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