Someone crossing the street in Inuvik on a foggy winter day.

What will the new Arctic highway mean for residents in Inuvik (pictured above) and elsewhere in the region?
Photo Credit: (Eilis Quinn / Eye on the Arctic)

What Arctic highway project tells us about Canada’s plans for North

Each week Eye on the Arctic features stories and newsmakers from across the North

Construction on Canada’s long planned Arctic highway project in the western Arctic got underway this month.

The project will connect the Arctic community of Inuvik, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, with the community of Tuktoyaktuk, 137-km kilometres north on the  Beaufort Sea coast.

(Click on photos to read captions)

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper travelled to Inuvik earlier this month to mark the beginning of construction, giving an indication of how important this $299-million project is to the federal government and region.

  • But just why is the government spending so much money to link two remote communities with a combined population of less than 4500?
  • What does this project signal about Canada’s intentions in the western Arctic?
  • What is the long term impact of such a project on locals in the region?

To discuss some of these questions, Eye on the Arctic’s Eilís Quinn spoke with Arctic expert and Foreign Policy Blogs writer Mia Bennett.


Bennett’s Foreign Policy Blogs work is regularly featured on Eye on the Arctic .

8 facts about the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway

  • The road will extend the Dempster Highway, which currently ends in Inuvik, N.W.T. The Dempster Highway, which opened in 1979, was the first all-season road across the Arctic Circle. It was named for Jack Dempster, a member of the Northwest Mounted Police in Yukon who played a role in the recovery of the Lost Patrol.
  • The 137-km long two-lane highway will be packed gravel, with an anticipated speed limit of 70 km/h.
  • Construction will only occur in the winter when there’s less risk of damage or disruption to the permafrost.
  • The roadbed will be a minimum of 1.8 metres above the tundra. McLeod says their studies show that large of a buffer helps prevent the permafrost from melting. “There are going to be areas where it’s going to be sinking,” he said. Crews are prepared to fill those areas until the road finds its steady state.
  • There will be eight bridges along the route, in total 68 areas where the highway has to pass over waterways larger than two metres.
  • The GNWT expects about 150 people to work on the project annually, with crews split between the Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk ends.
  • The cost of the project is currently estimated at $299 million. The federal government has pledged to contribute $200 million.The remainder will be paid by the GNWT. Annual maintenance work, including grading the road and clearing snow, will cost between $1.5 and $1.8 million each year.
  • The GNWT anticipates construction will be finished by fall 2017/winter 2018.


Related Links:

Oil companies real beneficiaries of Canada’s Arctic highway extension, Blog by Mia Bennett

Cash boost for highway in Arctic Canada, CBC News

Eye on the Arctic


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