After more than 40 years and 1,100 km, the Trans-Labrador Highway is finished
While an ambitious infrastructure project is finished, access roads to it remain unpaved
After decades of construction, the Trans-Labrador Highway — a gigantic infrastructure project that allows vehicles to drive from western Labrador to the Strait of Belle Isle — has been paved.
Work on the 1,149-kilometre road started in the early 1980s, with segments of the highway completed in phases.
On Tuesday, at Cartwright Junction, workers used rakes to smooth out asphalt, finally joining two distinct parts of the highway.
Communities on the south coast began connecting to the highway while it was a grid road in the 1990s and early 2000s. Lisa Dempster, the minister responsible for Labrador affairs, remembers the day her coastal hometown of Charlottetown was connected.
"We got connected to the outside world, Dec. 10, 2001, in my community. And that was a significant, monumental day for us as well," said Dempster.
"It was a game-changer in how we lived."
Dempster said the completion of the highway was the result of a number of people advocating for the paving for decades. She said local residents' patience was growing thin in recent years but the pandemic and ferries being delayed due to high winds played a role in the delay.
Less than 100 metres from where the pavement was sealed Tuesday lies the gravel Cartwright Access Road.
It's one of many access roads in the south coast that remain unpaved.
Dempster said the province has competing priorities but she is going to focus on another transportation strategy for Labrador.
Next: feasibility of a north coast road
Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Elvis Loveless said it was a proud moment to see the pavement pieces joined. He said a larger celebration is being planned for the fall.
Even though the highway is now paved, Labrador will continue to be a priority for the department, Loveless said.
"Believe me, I can say with a lot of confidence that Labrador is not on the back burner now, before and moving forward," he said.
The province is completing a pre-feasibility study of the possibility of a road to the north coast. Loveless said they're finalizing consultations and determining the scope of it and hoping to release that later this summer.
The pavement was a welcome sight for Lynn and Tom Agnew, two tourists from Pine Valley, Ont. Driving into Labrador through northern Quebec, they said the dirt road on the Quebec highway was tougher on their camper and took more time than Labrador's paved highway.
"The roads have been just unbelievable," Tom Agnew said.
"Everybody's so nice," Lynn Agnew said.
"We even got offered to come and do our laundry at someone's house in Labrador City and offered to have showers. It's just. People are so great, so it's awesome," she said. "Marvellous."
The two received a Labrador flag from the provincial government for being the first to drive over the new pavement. While it's her first time in the Big Land, Lynn said, she hopes other tourists drive through.
"Don't miss it. It's worth the drive," she said.
"We are just now being discovered," Dempster said. "We have hundreds of kilometres of vast, unspoiled territory. We have what the rest of the world is wanting to see. And we're just now getting our infrastructure in place and getting open for business."