‘Totally unacceptable’: Tuktoyaktuk mayor, road contractors decry state of highway

The Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway in the N.W.T. has been closed for over a week in February after being buried in snow. (Desmond Loreen/CBC)

The mayor of Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., said the only road to and from his community is unsafe and is calling for more maintenance support from the territorial government.

“The GNWT’s lack of action now threatens our access to food, our access to health care, and supplies and puts in jeopardy our fundamental rights to travel our own land,” said Erwin Elias, Tuktoyaktuk’s mayor.

Speaking with CBC News on March 14, Elias said high snow banks are causing safety issues on the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway when it’s open, and he wants the N.W.T. government to pay more to clear the excess snow away.

The road was closed for 12 days in February and closed again last Thursday, due to blowing snow and low visibility.

It reopened to single-lane traffic on Friday and on Monday morning, the territory’s highway conditions map was still warning that sections of the road were only open to a single lane.

Merven Gruben is the co-owner of E. Gruben’s Transport and is a director for EGT Northwind Ltd., the company is contracted to maintain the highway.

Gruben said he is afraid to drive the highway in its current state due to the blind corners and high snow banks.

“This has got to be the worst highway in the Northwest Territories, maybe in Canada … this is totally unacceptable,” he said.

The N.W.T. Department of Infrastructure has told CBC News in previous interviews that the weather and snowfall have been exceptionally bad this winter.

But Elias said that isn’t an excuse.

He said he understands there is a finite amount of money in the budget for maintenance, but this winter had heavier than expected snowfall, and he thinks the N.W.T. government should pay extra to get the road properly cleared.

“They need to get the equipment out now and remove the snow, so we can stop driving in these tunnels and all these blind corners,” said Elias.

The hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk is working on a shoreline remediation project and is hauling truckloads of rock from a quarry on the highway. The repeated road closures due to the snow blowing back over the highway have hampered those efforts, Elias said. He is concerned they won’t have enough material hauled in place for the shoreline work to do any good this summer.

“Especially with the large equipment that’s driving out there trying to get these projects that are super important to the community completed,” said Elias.

Russell Newmark, EGT Northwind CEO, says he’s made recommendations on how to keep the road clear.

“We have no say whatsoever. They just tell us to send a grader to kilometer 30 or send it to 60 or don’t send anything. We have no discretion to send equipment on the road or to send to given locations,” said Newmark.

“We can make recommendations, but by and large for the last several weeks those recommendations have been ignored.”

Newmark says the company has no discretion, and must simply follow instructions.

The Department of Infrastructure said it is doing all it can to clear the snow away from the highway to prevent any safety hazards associated with blind corners.

Gary Brennan is the assistant deputy minister of regional operations with the Department of Infrastructure.

He told CBC News the department has been working with the contractors to get more equipment on the highway to clear wider lanes.

“I don’t think any comments are ever ignored, however, we do take everything into consideration in the big picture,” said Brennan.

“We’ve spent a lot of money on extra equipment this winter already and are working with the contractor to get more out there.”

He added that the department is directing equipment to problematic areas on the highway.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Highway closure leaves Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., running low on supplies, CBC News

Norway: Smoke from Canadian wildfires forecast to reach Norway, The Associated Press

Russia: New NOAA report finds vast Siberian wildfires linked to Arctic warming, The Associated Press

Sweden: Fire bans in force across large parts of Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States: Wildfires in Anchorage? Climate change sparks disaster fears, The Associated Press

CBC News

For more news from Canada visit CBC News.

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

Leave a Reply

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.
Netiquette »

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *