The new all-season highway between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk will remain under construction until this fall, despite officially opening last November, the minister responsible said.
Wally Schumann, the NWT's infrastructure minister, answered questions from Herb Nakimayak – the Nunakput MLA, whose constituency includes Tuk – as the legislature reconvened for its latest session on Thursday.
The highway has been entirely closed since early May after two weeks of half-day closures in April. The road is considered impassable owing to slippery and soft sections.
Nakimayak wanted to know why Schumann's department chose to open what he termed "an unfinished road."
Schumann, in reply, said "the highway was deemed substantially completed" when the territory chose to officially open it in November 2017. The opening of the highway, which cost $200 million in federal funding and a further $99 million in territorial cash, included ceremonies in both Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk attended by a host of dignitaries and hundreds of residents.
However, Schumann said contractors involved must now correct 'deficiencies' noted during the highway's final inspection.
Those deficiencies include the need to lay down more gravel, addition of snow fencing to certain sections, additional signage, shaping work on some embankments, and improvement work to some bridges and culverts.
"This road is still under construction and we are working on it," said Schumann. "This highway was constructed in one of the harshest environments in Canada and our contractors did one heck of a job.
"We’ll continue to look at improvements to make sure we keep this thing open as long as possible.
"People have to realize this is a new highway. We are working very hard to get this thing open."
Nakimayak acknowledged he and local residents "know how challenging it is" working with conditions in the area.
Schumann said 60 to 70 vehicles per day used the new road during the winter season without incident, adding 45 extra days of access to Tuktoyaktuk compared to the seasonal ice road which preceded it.
The all-season road could reopen in some form by the end of this month, but construction will take place until the fall, Schumann said.