With the exception of some winter months when the winter road is open, the community of Whatì (formally known as Lac La Martre), NWT, is currently only accessible by air.
In order to provide uninterrupted, year-round access to WhatÌ, the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) has moved ahead with the construction of an all-season road. The new road will also improve the resiliency of the transportation system to the impacts of climate change and increase the winter road window-of-access to the communities of Gamètì and Wekweètì.
“This highway has been a priority for the GNWT and the Tłı˛cho˛ for years; we are pleased to be making it happen and look forward to the day when people can drive all the way to WhatÌ during any season throughout the year,” Binay Yadav, Director of the Transportation Division, Department of Infrastructure, told Business Elite Canada about the project.
“We expect that the road will bring transportation efficiencies, reducing the cost of living for the region and improving socio-economic opportunities. All-weather access may attract further interest from industry in exploration and development of natural resources in the region.”
IMPORTANCE TO THE COMMUNITY
This transformative road will provide year-round access to Whatì by replacing the existing winter road, which became vulnerable to fluctuating climate conditions because much of its alignment was constructed on frozen lakes. An all-season road will ease many of these challenges and will improve the resiliency of the Northwest Territories transportation system to the impacts of climate change.
The Tłı˛cho˛ Highway has two lanes with gravel surface totalling 97 kilometres in length. As of July 2021, 97 kilometres of embankment are constructed, 88 kilometres of surfacing is completed and 134 culverts have been installed. All four bridges—La Martre, Grayling, Duport and James Creek—are constructed, with a total of 48 bridge piles installed. Signage, delineators, and guardrail installation is taking place. All partners involved in the project are organizing an official ribbon-cutting opening ceremony for Fall 2021.
Once complete, the road is expected to reduce the cost of living for the region and support new socio-economic opportunities, while helping attract further interest from industry in the exploration and development of natural resources, says Yadav. Road construction and maintenance will result in significant employment and training opportunities for Tłı˛cho˛ residents that support the development of a strong northern workforce.
“Future economic growth and prosperity for the NWT is closely tied to the sustainable development of the Territory’s natural resources,” says Yadav. “New mines are needed to maintain the quality of life and economic growth that NWT residents want and deserve, and the GNWT is working to create an attractive, sustainable investment climate that serves the interest of NWT residents by facilitating responsible development. Improved access into the region would also reduce operating costs for existing mines, and would facilitate resource exploration and development activities.”
North Star Infrastructure has signed up to a detailed training plan that involves the employment and training of residents of Tłı˛cho˛ communities into various roles through the construction, operations and maintenance periods. This will ensure that significant knowledge and capacity transfer occurs, building on the skills that already exist within the Tłı˛cho˛ communities.
Many requirements have been outlined and agreed upon for supporting local workers and businesses; for example, at least 30 per cent of total capital costs must be paid to Tłı˛cho˛ /northern businesses, with at least 25 per cent going to Tłı˛cho˛ businesses.
“There are many technical and environmental challenges with this project, but none that we can’t overcome,” says Yadav. “Extreme weather, for example, impacts working conditions, much shorter construction season as most earthwork activities cannot be undertaken under frozen ground conditions (usually frozen from October to May). Furthermore, equipment and temporary facilities are not adapted to extreme cold and will not operate below certain temperature, and the remoteness of the project adds complexity to ensuring the site has the resources, building materials, and site amenities required.”
The current COVID-19 pandemic is another challenge that continues to impact the project, causing construction to paused for six weeks from March 30, 2020 to May 15, 2020. Strict safety measures were put in place when construction resumed, and are still in place currently. Southern workers are required to have a negative COVID-19 test in order to return to the workplace.
“Throughout the project, our top priority is the health and safety of our residents, communities and contractors,” says Yadav. “Workers must observe all direction from the Chief Public Health Officer, the Department of Health and Social Services, the Worker’s Safety Compensation Commission and are where appropriate, they encouraged to follow best practices published by the Canadian Construction Association.”