Canada’s first per­ma­nent road to Arc­tic coast set to open this week

The Beacon Herald - - LOCAL NEWS - BOB WE­BER THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

TUK­TOY­AK­TUK, N.W.T. — At 6 a.m. on Wed­nes­day, in the arc­tic cold and dark­ness of the Macken­zie Delta, Dar­rel Na­so­galuak will fire up his ve­hi­cle and head out on Canada’s new­est and most ex­otic road trip.

Na­so­galuak, mayor of the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries ham­let of Tuk­toy­ak­tuk, will drive down 120 kilo­me­tres of brand-new, twolane, all-weather gravel to Inu­vik. Re­plac­ing a sea­sonal ice road, the new high­way is the coun­try’s first per­ma­nent link to its Arc­tic coast.

With apolo­gies to Stan Rogers, trav­ellers will now be able to grasp the hand of Franklin reach­ing for the Beau­fort Sea from the heated com­fort of their driv­ers’ seats.

“It’s some­thing that’s been on the com­mu­nity’s want list for 40 years,” said Na­so­galuak, who will make the early morn­ing trip to join up with open­ing cer­e­monies in Inu­vik.

Af­ter it’s done, he’ll join an of­fi­cial mo­tor­cade head­ing back up the road to Tuk. That’s where the real party be­gins — speeches, songs, fire­works and a lav­ish com­mu­nity feast with lo­cal favourites in­clud­ing cari­bou, rein­deer, char, whale and muk­tuk.

The $300-mil­lion road will cross a rolling land­scape of tun­dra and lakes with many stream cross­ings and bridges.

“I’ve trav­elled a lot of high­ways, but the scenery on this one is quite dif­fer­ent,” said Na­so­galuak, who’s al­ready been out on the route on his ATV. “You come out of the forested ar­eas out on to the tun­dra and you even­tu­ally reach the ocean.”

N.W.T. In­fra­struc­ture Min­is­ter Wally Schu­mann has driven half the road.

“When you come out of Inu­vik, for about 20 kilo­me­tres you don’t re­al­ize how much you’re go­ing up­hill. The trees just get smaller and smaller and smaller and all of a sud­den you’re on the top of a moun­tain and there’s no trees and you can see about 100 kilo­me­tres on both sides of the high­way.

“It’s an amaz­ing feel­ing.”

Peo­ple first be­gan talk­ing about the project in the 1960s. Sur­veys be­gan in 1974.

The North­west Ter­ri­to­ries made the first pro­posal in 1998 and Ot­tawa granted $200 mil­lion in fund­ing in 2009 af­ter years of lob­by­ing from the ter­ri­tory as well as abo­rig­i­nal and busi­ness groups. Con­struc­tion be­gan in earnest in 2014.

It’s taken a while. But maybe that’s a good thing, said Na­so­galuak.

“It’s given us an op­por­tu­nity to pre­pare really well.”

The com­mu­nity has had many pub­lic dis­cus­sions on the road’s po­ten­tial im­pact, both so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal. And it’s get­ting ready for visi­tors.

A south­ern com­pany has do­nated 2,000 cans of brightly coloured paint to spruce up the place.

The lo­cal bed and break­fast has added rooms. Tuk is de­vel­op­ing RV park­ing sites and pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties such as toi­lets.

It’s also es­ti­mated that a re­li­able route for sup­plies will re­duce the cost of liv­ing in the Tuk by about $1.5 mil­lion a year. That’s the equiv­a­lent of $1,500 in sav­ings for ev­ery man, woman and child in town.

The road is likely to boost eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in the area by re­duc­ing trans­porta­tion costs, said Schu­mann. It’s an ex­am­ple of the kind of in­fra­struc­ture the N.W.T. des­per­ately needs.

“Our in­fra­struc­ture deficit is hor­ren­dous,” said Schu­mann.

The Inu­vik-Tuk road is only the start of the ter­ri­tory’s asks.

It’s been look­ing for an all­weather road from Yel­lowknife into the heart of the ter­ri­tory, where some of the rich­est min­eral de­posits any­where in the world await, link­ing up to a port on Nu­navut’s western coast. It would also like a road reach­ing up the Macken­zie Val­ley to open that re­gion for tourism and de­vel­op­ment.

“Ev­ery dol­lar in­vested by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment into this type of in­fra­struc­ture in the ter­ri­to­ries is not only go­ing to ben­e­fit us, it’s go­ing to ben­e­fit all Cana­di­ans,” Schu­mann said.

But for now, Inu­vik-Tuk is cause enough for cel­e­bra­tion, said Na­so­galuak.

JAMES MACKEN­ZIE HANDOUT/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Con­struc­tion on Inu­vik Tuk­toy­ak­tuk high­way in Inu­vik, N.W.T., is shown in this un­dated handout photo. The new 120-kilo­me­tre all-weather gravel road, which opens Wed­nes­day, is Canada’s first land link to its Arc­tic coast.

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