Construction has started on the Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road, and road builders say it will be open by the end of January.
Director of winter road operations Mike Lowing stated in an email to Cabin Radio that the road will be closed to public vehicle traffic during the month of construction. Snowmobiles and UTVs are, however, allowed during this phase.
The 400 km road is constructed each year over frozen lakes and portages to supply the NWT’s major diamond mines during a short winter road season. The 2020 opening date is in line with the expected opening date, which lies around February 1.
To construct the road, which sustains around 8,000 trips per season, crews first remove the snow cover according to the joint winter road project. Ice thickness is then measured using a “high-tech ground penetrating radar,” which shows builders which areas of the road need to be flooded to build up ice thickness.
The ice crossings need to be 74 cm thick before the road can officially open. When the ice reaches 99 cm thick, the road is at full-load capacity.
The closing date in 2019 was also in line with previous years, despite temporary closures due to unseasonably warm temperatures in the North Slave region.
Late in the season last year, two groups were rescued after attempting to travel on the then-closed winter road. The road officially closed March 31, 2019, yet the travellers attempting to drive the road two days later became stranded around MacKay Lake. “We cannot impress enough, the need for travellers to avoid travelling on the closed roads,” read an RCMP statement at the time.
The winter road traffic will look different this year, as two trucking companies which ran trucks on the winter roads have filed for creditor protection in the face of multi-million dollar losses. Ventures West and Tłı̨chǫ Landtran have let go nearly all of their staff and are in the process of selling off hundreds of trucks and trailers.