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.
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, I spoke with Arctic expert and Foreign Policy Blogs writer Mia Bennett for my weekly column on Radio Canada International. You can listen to our conversation below:
And remember, you can always check out more of Mia’s blogs here.
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.
Eilís Quinn is a journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project.
Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.
Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the violent death of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on violence and trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.
Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.
Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."