Yukon ‘looking into other options’ for river crossing at Dawson City, as ferry ages

The George Black ferry in Dawson City operates on a 24 hour, seven days a week schedule from May to October. (Chris MacIntyre/CBC)

‘Nothing is not on the table to discuss,’ says highway official — including a bridge

It’s been a topic of conversation among many residents in Dawson City, Yukon, for decades.

Should a bridge be built over the Yukon River connecting the historic town site to West Dawson, Sunnydale, and the Top of the World Highway?

“Nothing is not on the table to discuss,” said Jim Regimbal, northern area superintendent for the territory’s department of Highways and Public Works. “We’re open to the best solution for everyone.”

Over the past couple of years the George Black ferry, which shuttles passengers and vehicles across the river, has experienced numerous issues ranging from mechanical to administrative, and that’s resulted in service being stopped — for an hour, or even up to a few days.

Regimbal said the ferry is an aging vessel so mechanical issues are inevitable.

He said while alternative options are being considered, the government has taken steps to extend the life of the current ferry.

“Knock on wood — as I’m knocking on my table right now — we’ll get ten to fifteen years with the ferry,” Regimbal said.

“But also in saying that, we’re also looking into other options, whether it’s a bridge, or another ferry, or status quo.”

Some West Dawson residents argue that a bridge is the best long-term solution for the busy river crossing. (Chris MacIntyre/CBC)

Recently, the department of Highways and Public Works held a public information session so Dawson residents could share their opinion on what is working with the current river crossing options, and what isn’t.

Regimbal said the feedback gathered at the session is still being reviewed.

He said residents also have until the end of the month to submit comments and suggestions via a survey that was mailed out to every resident. He said the survey can also be found online.

Bridge is solution, says West Dawson resident

Fre Strid, who lives in West Dawson with his family, said he’s used the ferry for most of his life. He also said times have changed and the government should consider that when thinking about new river crossing options.

“There’s 200 hundred people living in West Dawson now,” he said. “When I was a kid there might have been 30 or 40. So right off the bat you’ve got that many more people trying to get to work.”

Strid said the size of RVs is also becoming a challenge when it comes to loading and unloading them on and off the ferry.

“They’re taking up more space,” he said. “In a lot of cases the people that drive them aren’t terribly comfortable driving them on to a tight space. A lot of them have very low clearance, so they get hung up or they drag their bellies.”

Strid believes a bridge is the best solution, as it would mean that people living on the west side of the river would have year-round access to emergency services. Right now, there are periods when it’s not possible to easily cross the river, when ferry is out of the water for the season, and the ice-road crossing is not yet open.

“We have about three months of the year where you can’t get an ambulance or fire truck,” Strid said.

Strid said a new ferry could solve the mechanical issues but it wouldn’t change the long wait times for vehicles. He says sometimes the line up to get across the river extends to the equivalent of two blocks long.

He said sometimes he waits up to an hour to make the five-minute ferry crossing. But he doesn’t think a bigger ferry is the solution, either.

“If you make a bigger boat that will haul more people, you’re basically increasing the loading and unloading time on either side,” he said.

Related stories from around the North: 

Norway: Norwegian Arctic ferry lines to go electric by 2022, The Independent Barents Observer

Chris MacIntyre, CBC News

Chris MacIntyre is a CBC reporter in Dawson City, Yukon.

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