Dawson City, Yukon, residents weigh in on future of river crossing

The Yukon River remains open where the annual ice bridge is normally constructed. Some residents have been using a five kilometre trail, which crosses the Yukon River at an ice jam upstream. (Greg Carlson)

Many said building a bridge is the best way to solve the crossing woes

A bridge, an electric ferry and a gondola were among the ideas residents suggested for the river crossing in Dawson City, Yukon.

This was part of the What We Heard report released by the Yukon government on Jan. 12.

Last year, the government asked residents living in Dawson City and West Dawson to provide feedback on the current methods used for crossing the Yukon River and to offer suggestions on what would improve crossing in the future.

According to the report, 600 people shared feedback during a public information session held in Dawson City in March, and an online survey that followed shortly after.

Over half of the respondents said they were satisfied with the George Black Ferry crossing in the summer and the ice bridge in the winter.

People questioned the reliability of both crossings, noting the ferry is an aging vessel and mechanical issues in previous years which resulted in lapses of services.

Long lineups and wait times to board the ferry was also a concern for many residents.

“The ferry is an outdated, inefficient means of crossing the river. I feel it’s time to seriously consider building a bridge to bring the Top of the World Highway to a proper transportation route,” one respondent said.

“Not only for West Dawson/Sunnydale residents (of which there is a significant and growing number) but also for commercial, mining, tourism and general traffic on this northern route.”

Winter bridge

In terms of the winter ice bridge, people said they were growing concerned with the unpredictable weather Dawson City has had in previous years which resulted in the Yukon River freezing later in the season.

Some questioned if the cost to construct an ice crossing later in the winter is worth the amount of time residents would be able to use it.

Carla Bohman is a spokesperson with the Yukon government’s department of Highways and Public Works.

“Overall the feedback we heard from residents was quite mixed,” she told CBC News. “We also looked at specific considerations when looking for long term planning.”

Bohman said that included potential impacts to the environment, finances and tourism.

The majority of people who provided feedback expressed their interest in having a bridge constructed to connect both sides of the river.

One person said, “I believe the construction of a year round bridge would be very beneficial to the residents of West Dawson, but the price tag of such a project does not match with the number of people benefiting. Unless the Top of The World Hwy remains open year round, a permanent bridge is ridiculous.”

Bohman said that wasn’t the only suggestion offered up by residents.

“We did get a lot of interesting responses,” Bohman said. “An electric ferry. We heard that there’s quite a few people that want a gondola across the river.”

Although no decision will be made from this latest report, Bohman said the government is actively reviewing all of the feedback provided and will engage with Dawson City residents again to continue the discussion around what they’d like to see moving forward.

‘Just noise’

Long time West Dawson resident Fre Strid told CBC News he isn’t going to hold his breath when waiting for the government to make a decision.

“It’s just noise,” he said.

Strid said this has been a discussion for years.

“We had three years in a row and it started becoming an actual thing on the government’s radar. Then the fourth year you know it froze perfectly normal and we had a great ice bridge and whatnot and it just dropped of the radar,” he said.

“We never heard a peep about it again and now we have another year like this and they’re talking about it again. It just restarts right, it’s not like they continue the process from the last time.”

Strid said the only solution to Dawson’s seasonal river crossing problem is a bridge.

He said the longer the government takes to pull the trigger on that idea, the more expensive it will be to build.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Time is running out for Dawson City, Yukon ice bridge, CBC News

Chris MacIntyre, CBC News

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

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