Prime Minister Harper arrived in Inuvik to officially commemorate the start of a $300 M 4 year construction project to build an all season highway from Inuvik to Tuktoyuktuk, NWT.
Ottawa promised to pay $200 million of the $300 million cost. Environmental regulators recommended a year ago that the project move forward and work began earlier this winter on what will eventually become the highway’s first 19 kilometres. Initial work is nearly finished on the 140-kilometre gravel highway between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk and the entire project is scheduled to be complete by 2018.
Building the two-lane roadway will be full of technical challenges, including many stream crossings, at least eight bridges and preserving permafrost to keep the ground under the road from sinking. Project engineers say they won’t use the previously standard practice of cutting into surface layers and building them back up with fill. Instead, they will avoid cutting through those insulating layers and will instead blanket the entire roadway with a subsurface fabric. Most of the work will take place in winter to inflict as little permafrost damage as possible.
Once complete, the highway is expected to reduce shipping costs to Tuktoyaktuk for essentials such as groceries by about $1.5 million a year. That’s the equivalent of $1,500 in savings for every man, woman and child in town.
Construction will create the equivalent of 1,000 jobs, with 40 permanent positions.
Canada’s arctic infrastructure is less well developed than Alaska or even Russia. Alaska, for example, has an all season road to the North Slope and is planning to truck LNG to Fairbanks in a few years. Russia has an all season road to Murmansk (from Saint Petersburg), a major arctic ocean port on the same latitude as Inuvik.
Economically, the Mackenzie delta communities suffer from high unemployment, so the winter work will help provide jobs and income to many people.