The Current

New Tuktoyaktuk road life-changing for Arctic community

"I hardly slept during the night ... it's such an exciting day," says Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Darrel Nasogaluak of the new road that officially opened.
The new permanent road from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk snakes through largely unexplored land at the top of the Northwest Territories and ends at the Arctic Ocean, making it possible for the first time ever to drive from coast to coast to coast year round in Canada.

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A new, permanent road from Tuktoyaktuk, on the coast of the Beaufort Sea in the Northwest Territories, to Inuvik finally opens Wednesday.

It's been a long dream for people living in "Tuk," as it's known to locals, who have only the option of a plane or — in the winter — an ice road to get in and out of the community.

"I hardly slept during the night ... it's such an exciting day," says Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Darrel Nasogaluak of the official road opening. 

"It's something we've been looking forward to for over 40 years."

The 127-kilometre all-weather road connects Inuvik with Tuktoyaktuk. (CBC)

It took four years of construction to make this $300-million road happen for the community. The highway, with a gravel surface from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, is limited to the speed of 70 km/h.

Mayor Nasogaluak predicts this road will bring "quite a boom" to Tuk this summer with tourists travelling up the Dempster Highway and eventually making their way up to Tuktoyaktuk at the Arctic Oean.

Tuktoyaktuk mayor Darrel Nasogaluak runs a brush over a building in the hamlet. As the new Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway inches closer to opening, the community has taken on a two-summer painting project to spruce up buildings in town. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

He says this road will change a lot for the community.

"We've always had a winter road that normally opens mid-December until mid-April but this opens the access to the community year-round and it's quite something for us," Nasogaluak tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"Occasionally you'll see [stores] running out of certain things between the ice road and the barging season. So they'll be able to replenish their shelves of items that they run short of more regularly, and produce will be able to come in at a better price."

This new access means big savings to the community reducing the cost of living to about $1.5 million a year.

"It's a win-win. It's good for the community and it's good for Canada."

Until the new road opens, the only way to get between Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik over land is to take the ice road. Its route includes a section over the Arctic Ocean and then down the Mackenzie River. By late April 2017 it will be gone forever, replaced by the new permanent road. (David Michael Lamb/CBC)

A new road into a community like Tuktoyaktuk also has its drawbacks, according to Mary Soderstrom, author of Road Through Time: The Story of Humanity on the Move.

She's travelled many such roads for her research  — and says with access comes peril.

"One of the roads that I travelled to was a road in South America which had been talked about for years too, it ... essentially links the Atlantic and the Pacific across Peru and into Brazil,"  Soderstrom explains, adding it takes almost six days to take a bus across.

The new Tuktoyaktuk-Inuvik highway crosses coastal plains dotted with lakes and streams. (Chris Corday/CBC )

"I took one stretch of it a few years ago shortly after it opened, and the worry was that this was going to open up essentially drugs, alcohol, prostitution — all kinds of exploitation of resources which shouldn't be exploited."

Soderstrom says what she witnessed was that the road opened up to deforestation and mining.

"Once we got over the Andes and into the Amazon Valley, you could see where gold mining particularly, and some legal or illegal logging had taken place."

Listen to the full conversation above.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese.