Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway behind schedule as season nears end

The Government of the Northwest Territories says construction on the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway will be completed on time, despite only 1 kilometre of road being completed so far this season on the Inuvik side.

Only one kilometre of road completed this season on Inuvik side; Tuktoyaktuk side moving faster

Construction on the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway is moving quicker on the north side - nearer to Tuktoyaktuk - where 30 kilometres of road have already been completed. (Submitted by James MacKenzie/Department of Transportation)

Construction on the 137-kilometre Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway isn't moving as fast as planned, but the Northwest Territories government is telling people not to worry.

This is the second construction season for the highway, which must be worked on in the winter months due to permafrost. Last year, crews on both the Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk sides missed their 20-kilometre targets. Twelve kilometres of road were built on the Inuvik side, and 16 on the Tuktoyaktuk side.

Progress is notably slower on the Inuvik side of the highway, where crews have been slowed by weather and more challenging terrain. (Submitted by James MacKenzie/Department of Transportation)

Contractors pledged to catch up this year, and the Tuktoyaktuk side is moving quickly, with 30 kilometres of total road built. However, on the Inuvik side, things are slower, with 13 total kilometres built — just one more than last year — with approximately a month to go until the construction season ends in April.

"As far as the northern side, the Tuk side, it is actually progressing further in terms of distance," says MLA Robert Hawkins, who sits on a committee monitoring construction.

According to Hawkins, crews building the Inuvik side of the highway have more challenges, including a lack of cold days, longer trips for gravel, and more difficult terrain.

"From Tuktoyaktuk, you're building as if you are on Saskatchewan," says Hawkins. "The ground is flat smooth.

"Building from Inuvik on the south side is more like a billy goat. There are a lot of deep crevices climbing up and down."

Crews on the Tuktoyaktuk side of the highway are facing terrain as high as six metres, while on the Inuvik side terrain heights can vary as much as 10 to 12 metres. It's estimated that, to this point, highway crews have moved 1.9 million cubic metres of dirt during construction.

Flatter terrain has made for smoother sailing on the Tuktoyaktuk side, where crews are just 10 kilometres shy of being back on schedule. (Submitted by James MacKenzie/Department of Transportation)

Tom Beaulieu, the territory's minister of transportation, says that by some point at the end of the next construction season, "the two companies will meet in the middle" — in time to put the finishing touches on the road during the 2017/2018 season.