Tłı̨chǫ

Whatì highway more than 70-percent complete, territory says


The Northwest Territories government says work on the all-season road that will connect Whatì to Highway 3 west of Behchokǫ̀ is more than 70 percent complete. 

Construction of the 97-kilometre Tłı̨chǫ All-Season Road began in September 2019. Project manager Ziaur Rahman said on Thursday “significant progress” had been made in the intervening year.

That includes design work, 97 kilometres of right-of-way clearing, 85 kilometres of embankment construction, and the installation of girders and deck panels on four bridges.

Greg Hanna, a Department of Infrastructure spokesperson, said that was “pretty remarkable in spite of Covid-19.”

The government said a “robust” Covid-19 mitigation plan is in place for the project, including the use of a Covid-19 site coordinator, screening, social distancing, and disinfection. 

Workers’ temperatures are taken regularly, the territory said, and only those without symptoms in the past 14 days are allowed on site or at camp facilities. Any workers who do show symptoms of Covid-19, or who may have been exposed to the virus, will be confined to a room with an assigned bathroom and no access to camp facilities.

A worker from outside the territory – who requested anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter related to their employment – had earlier contacted Cabin Radio to express concern that precautionary measures weren’t being taken seriously or enforced during work on the project, particularly the wearing of masks. 

“Barely any workers wear masks, whether it [is] in a bus, vehicles, or eating areas of 10 to 50 people at a time, even though flu season is upon us,” the worker wrote in an email. 

“It’s a matter of time for us here and the airport staff in Yellowknife to be subjected to Covid.” 

A GNWT photo of construction on the Tłı̨chǫ All Season Road in August 2020.

Rahman said Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission staff had visited the site “from time to time” to ensure precautions were being followed. 

“The health and safety of our residents, workers, contractors, city, partners and communities is our number-one priority,” he said. 

Hanna said contractors were “very serious” about pandemic health measures.

Project manager Ziaur Rahman, left, and David Moore, an assistant deputy minister with the Department of Infrastructure.

According to the territory’s numbers, 276 workers have so far been employed on the project, 128 of whom are Tłı̨chǫ or NWT residents.

The project hasn’t been without criticism. Last month, NWT environmental officials said the accelerated timeline for construction left little time to complete a boreal caribou range plan. In January, the CBC reported quarries for the project had been constructed without the required approval of the Wek’èezhìi Land and Water Board.

Some Whatì residents have expressed concern about the potential impacts of year-round road access, including increased access to drugs and alcohol. Whatì, which had an estimated population of 502 in 2019, is one of several communities in the NWT where alcohol is prohibited. 

A GNWT photo of construction on the Tłı̨chǫ All Season Road in August 2020.

The Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board has recommended changes to the well-being of Whatì residents be tracked and managed, listing factors like access to drugs and alcohol, traffic accidents, the safety of young women, and changes in harvest success.

Rahman said staff from the Department of Health and Social Services have been looking at those impacts and working with the community. 

“This is a good news story. It’s on track, it’s on schedule, and on budget,” Moore said.

“I think it’s an example of the NWT working with our local, Indigenous governments here in the territory on a joint, collaborative project.” 

The contract to build and maintain the road is set at $411.8 million over 25 years. 

The road is set to officially open in the fall of next year.


Correction: October 17, 2020 – 10:54 MT. This article initially suggested the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board had recommended the tracking of changes to the well-being of Whatì residents. In fact, that recommendation came from the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board, a different body.