Alaska Highway upgrades threaten business, say owners

Some business owners along the Alaska highway in Whitehorse say planned upgrades to the road threaten their livelihoods. The territorial government is proposing a $200-million project to widen the highway, encroaching on some properties.

'I'll have to knock down the building,' says Airport Chalet co-owner

Some business owners along the Alaska highway in Whitehorse say plans to widen the road will destroy their livelihoods.

The Yukon government is proposing a $200 million upgrade of the stretch of highway that runs through the city. It would involve splitting the highway and adding lanes in some sections, as well as widening the shoulder for cyclists and pedestrians.

"It's scary," says D'arcy Olynyk, co-owner of the Airport Chalet, a restaurant and bar alongside the highway. "This building, this structure, is in their planned use of space. Which mean I'll have to knock down the building."

The territorial government has long planned to upgrade the busy road. The idea is to bring the highway up to modern standards, improve safety and reduce congestion as the city grows. The government's population forecasts suggest the city will continue to grow in the coming decades.

Plans called 'overkill'

In 2013, the government hired local engineering firm CH2M Hill Canada to come up with a draft design plan. It was presented to city residents last month, with a request for public feedback.

"I'm not opposed to progress," says Bruce Henry, whose office window at Centennial Motors faces the highway. But he's afraid the wider highway will make it harder for people to access his business, which includes a lucrative car wash.

Henry calls the upgrade plans "overkill," based on exaggerated population forecasts.

"All I'm going to see from here over to the airport parking lot is pavement," he says. "There's going to be lanes that all day nobody is going to drive on."

Alternative solution

Olynyk believes there are alternatives. He says some Alaska highway business owners have commissioned their own engineering study, which shows the highway near the airport can be improved and widened, without encroaching on his business.

"My biggest concern right now is that common sense won't prevail," says Olynyk. "There seems to be a disconnect between the concept of building a road that serves people, as opposed to building a road that indiscriminately wipes out local businesses."

The territorial government has called its current proposal a "technical solution," subject to change based on input from residents and business owners.

A series of open house events to collect feedback are planned April 22 to 25, at the Yukon Transportation Museum.


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