A ceremony to mark the beginning of construction of the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway will take place in Inuvik today. 

"It's in terrain that's not mirrored anywhere else in the world," says Kevin McLeod, N.W.T's director of highways. "It's challenging and it's difficult. The climate is difficult. I think when folks look back six, seven years from now they'll be proud they were part of this project."

Road facts:

  • The road will extend the Dempster Highway, which currently ends in Inuvik, N.W.T. The Dempster Highway, which opened in 1979, was the first all-season road across the Arctic Circle. It was named for Jack Dempster, a member of the Northwest Mounted Police in Yukon who played a role in the recovery of the Lost Patrol. 
  • The 137-km long two-lane highway will be packed gravel, with an anticipated speed limit of 70 km/h.
  • Construction will only occur in the winter when there's less risk of damage or disruption to the permafrost.
  • The roadbed will be a minimum of 1.8 metres above the tundra. McLeod says their studies show that large of a buffer helps prevent the permafrost from melting. "There are going to be areas where it's going to be sinking," he said. Crews are prepared to fill those areas until the road finds its steady state.
  • There will be eight bridges along the route, in total 68 areas where the highway has to pass over waterways larger than two metres.
  • The GNWT expects about 150 people to work on the project annually, with crews split between the Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk ends. 
  • The cost of the project is currently estimated at $299 million. The federal government has pledged to contribute $200 million.The remainder will be paid by the GNWT. Annual maintenance work, including grading the road and clearing snow, will cost between $1.5 and $1.8 million each year. 
  • The GNWT anticipates construction will be finished by fall 2017/winter 2018.

Construction of the 20-kilometre access road on the Tuktoyaktuk side of the highway began last winter, and isn't completely done yet. It has to pass quality assurance tests and the finishing touch is a 20 centimetre layer of roadway gravel. That likely won't happen until most of the highway is finished, to protect the surface from the wear and tear of construction.

The territory has still not finalized an agreement with the Inuvialuit land claims organization to pay royalties on the gravel that will be used to build the road. Construction will start once that is done. 

with files from Elizabeth McMillan