N.W.T. premier pitches new highways to federal government

The N.W.T. premier and the minister of transportation pitched the federal government this week on cabinet’s plan to build more highways in the territory.

'The best way to reduce the cost of living is building infrastructure,' says Premier Bob McLeod

N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on Tuesday. (Adam Scotti - PMO/CPM)

The premier of the Northwest Territories and the N.W.T. minister of transportation pitched the federal government this week on cabinet's plan to build more highways in the territory.

On Wednesday, Wally Schumann, N.W.T. minister of Transportation, made a presentation to the federal Transportation Committee in Ottawa.

Schumann gave updates on three major road projects in development in the territory: the Mackenzie Valley Highway, the Tlicho all-season road, and the Slave Geological Province Access Corridor.

"At the same time as we are preparing to finish one section of the Mackenzie Valley Highway, the Government of the Northwest Territories has turned its attention to advancing construction of the next section from Wrigley to Norman Wells," Schumann told the committee, according to a presentation provided by the territorial government. 

The cost of that section of highway is estimated at $700 million, not including the maintenance of the road — a challenging cost to estimate given melting permafrost and ongoing climate change.

When asked about that maintenance liability for N.W.T. taxpayers, Premier Bob McLeod said new roads are usually a benefit to the economy.

"We firmly believe it will not only open up opportunities for development, but it will also result in a decrease of the cost of living for those in the population affected," McLeod said.

"The best way to reduce the cost of living is building infrastructure.

A section of the Mackenzie Valley Highway under construction between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. (submitted by GNWT Department of Transportation)

"That's the reality. If you can load up a truck and drive to Whati, for example, it would certainly be a lot cheaper than if you had to load up an airplane and fly to Whati."

McLeod said it is too early to say how much of the cost of the proposed road would be the responsibility of the territory. He said there are plenty of opportunities for federal funding.

The Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk section of the Mackenzie Valley Highway was budgeted at $299-million. The federal government committed $200-million to the project.

Federal money to study effect of climate change on roads

In August, the Canadian government committed $560,700 over the next two years to study the effects of climate change on roads, permafrost and runways in the Northwest Territories.

In an Aug. 18 news release, N.W.T. MP Michael McLeod said, "As the North warms and permafrost thaws, the effects of climate change are becoming more and more visible on highways in the Northwest Territories. These initiatives are important steps in understanding how we can best maintain our roadways in these warming conditions."

The territorial government committed $747,600 to the research project.


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