Beaufort Delta
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MLAs question progress on NWT highway work

Last modified: June 1, 2022 at 8:51am


Two Northwest Territories MLAs are seeking improvements to the territory’s highways to better serve residents.

In the legislature last week, Lesa Semmler, the MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes, called for improvements to the Dempster Highway – known as one of Canada’s most difficult highways – particularly on the Yukon side of the border. 

She called the highway a “lifeline” for the Beaufort Delta, providing critical access to food, fuel and building supplies.

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“As a resident of Inuvik for pretty-much my entire life, the only way out by road is the Dempster Highway,” Semmler said last Thursday. “When the residents of the Northwest Territories drive this highway from my community and from my region, it is not for leisure travel for the most part. It is used to harvest and to make the journey to Whitehorse or farther south for supplies.” 

Semmler, who first raised concerns about the NWT’s slow progress on widening the highway in 2020, said while the territory has advocated for federal funding to do so, she worries the Yukon is not doing the same. 

“We are in a housing crisis and modular homes and manufactured homes are one way to try to alleviate this crisis, but we can’t even truck anything wider than 14 feet up that road, which are not common sizes for modulars any longer,” she said, pointing to a single-lane bridge in the Yukon as being particularly troubling.

‘I drive that highway too’

Infrastructure minister Diane Archie, who represents the Inuvik Boot Lake riding, said she had heard those concerns from residents and has discussed the need to invest in the highway with the Yukon government. 

“I drive that highway too,” she said. 

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Archie previously said around $22.5 million was being invested in reconstructing and rehabilitating the highway on the NWT side of the border between 2019 and 2024. She said that would include installation of culverts and gravel resurfacing, adding the territory spends about $4.5 million on the highway every year. 

The Yukon government said it has no plans to widen the Dempster Highway.

In a statement to Cabin Radio, Krysten Johnson, a representative of the Yukon Department of Highways and Public Works, confirmed the Yukon and NWT governments are working together to collaborate on improvements to the highway. Work this year, she said, will include gravel resurfacing and culvert replacements between kilometres 165 and 202. 

Highway washouts

Deh Cho MLA Ronald Bonnetrouge raised concerns about highways being impacted by flooding. This month parts of Highway 7, Highway 1, the Kakisa access road, and the Dempster Highway have all been closed due to washouts. 

“When one travels the highways, one can notice the abnormal amount of water gushing out of the bushes, filling many ditches, causing great concern of possible washouts,” he told the legislature. “This could be detrimental for highway travel and the delivery of goods to the people who rely on the highway systems.”

Minister Archie said work to address high water levels on highways and protect roads this year has included repairing the bridge approach at Preble Creek on Highway 5, digging trenches along sections of Highway 1, and replacing a culvert on the Kakisa access road with plans to install an additional culvert. She said highway crews were continuing work to keep highways open. 

The minister said a full inspection of affected areas would be completed once the water fully subsides. So far, she said, there “does not appear to be significant damages to our highway embankments,” but some shoulders will have to be replaced due to erosion.

Bonnetrouge questioned whether the territory had the funding to address any damages.

Archie said the only insurance on the highway systems is for liability, which doesn’t cover damages, and her department is not currently funded for emergency situations. She said her department was working with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs and many costs would likely be eligible for federal reimbursement. 

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