The new all-season Tłı̨chǫ Highway, connecting Whatì to the Northwest Territories’ highway system, is expected to open this fall as planned.
Sonia Idir, a spokesperson for the territory’s Department of Infrastructure, said the 97-kilometre highway – which will also be known as Highway 9 – is on schedule and on budget. It replaces an annual, seasonal ice road.
Exactly when the road will see its first traffic remains unclear. An opening date has yet to be publicized.
As of September 14, the department said, 97 km of embankment and 80 km of surfacing had been completed. Also finished are the installation of 48 bridge piles and construction of four bridges.
The department said 56 NWT and 73 southern workers have been employed on the project, with 10,103 hours of training logged for Tłı̨chǫ citizens.
Officials have hailed the project as a “good news story,” saying it will reduce the cost of living in the region and attract interest from resource development companies.
But construction hasn’t been without complaint.
Last January, the CBC reported quarries for the project had been constructed without the necessary approval from the Wek’èezhìi Land and Water Board. Meanwhile, NWT environmental officials said the accelerated timeline for construction didn’t allow adequate time to complete a boreal caribou range plan.
Idir said the highway “currently has no outstanding regulatory issues.”
The Department of Health and Social Services says it will track the highway’s impact on Whatì residents, including factors like access to drugs and alcohol, traffic accidents, the safety of young women, and any changes in harvest success.
Whatì is currently in containment as a local Covid-19 outbreak grows. Community spread has been reported. As of Friday, Whatì had 33 active cases of the disease.
With no fixed opening date for the highway, whether – and at what point – that outbreak might begin to affect the road’s opening is not clear.