Whitehorse, northwestern Canada residents saw Tuesday evening the nearly finished design of upgrades to a section of the Alaska Highway near the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport.
“The aim of the project is to improve the overall safety of the highway,” Paul Murchison, acting assistant deputy minister of Yukon’s Department of Highways and Public Works, said shortly after the public meeting at the Yukon Transportation Museum.
The stretch in question, which currently does not have any crosswalks, spans about two kilometres between Lodestar Lane and Range Road. The frequency and the severity of traffic accidents there are higher than they should be, he said.
The design includes adding traffic lights to the highway at the Hillcrest Drive and Burns Road intersections.
The number of lanes will increase in certain areas so that people making turns will have dedicated lanes to do so, thereby reducing, in theory, the amount of through traffic that has to stop for people trying to exit.
The design also includes closing eastside connections to the highway, including at Electra Crescent and Burns Road, though continued access for emergency services vehicles is being looked at for the latter, Murchison said.
That means that most vehicular traffic to and from the airport, the museum, and the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre will eventually have to only flow through the Hillcrest Drive intersection, which will, in theory, be a safer connection to travel through, given the traffic lights, he added.
Locals said they wanted an underpass to get people across the highway.
Murchison said an underpass was considered but determined to be too expensive.
Another challenge with an underpass would have been to build a gradual enough decline for users, Murchison said. If it were too steep and required stairs, for example, that wouldn’t mesh with the project’s aim to have accessible trails, of which there are several in the design.
Two structures, including a motel, are in the way of the upgrades, he said.
“That business is partially within the highway right of way, and the roadwork actually impacts the existing structure,” Murchison said. “We are in discussions with the Airport Chalet around how to manage that impact.”
The owner of the Airport Chalet was not immediately available for comment.
An airport maintenance facility that houses snowplows and other equipment is also in the right of way.
“That building is at the end of its life cycle, and we are working to have that building replaced within the timelines of this project,” Murchison said.
The design should go to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board this month for a review.
Post-review, the plan is to finalize the design’s details and award the associated tender this winter, start construction next year, and complete the project in three phases by 2022.
The entire project is estimated to cost about $12 million.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Northern Canada Highway to get facelift, CBC News
Norway: LNG-reloading operations end in Norway’s Arctic waters, The Independent Barents Observer
Russia: Putin wants new rail link between Arctic coast and Indian Ocean, The Independent Barents Observer
United States: US Dept. of Transportation awards $25M for Port of Alaska upgrades, Alaska Public Media