Building the road was only half the battle.
Keeping it in one piece with the freeze and thaw of its underlying permafrost, and in the face of the threat of global warming, will be a monumental task as well.
The Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway will open this week. At 137 kilometres, it’s not the longest unpaved road in the North, but with a price tag of just under $300 million, it may be one of the most expensive on a per kilometre basis.
It’s also unique among road-building projects, explained Merven Gruben, vice-president of E. Gruben’s Transport Ltd., one of the companies involved in building the road.
Construction was limited to winter months so tundra and underlying permafrost would not be damaged. But winter in the North has been getting shorter, or at least felt that way during the past four years of construction.
“Our biggest obstacle was the season was getting shorter,”Gruben said.
The highway cost $2.2 million per kilometre to build, and will cost another $12,000 to $15,000 per kilometre every year to maintain. That means at least $1.5 million in annual maintenance costs, or about $1 million more every year than it cost to build the annual winter ice road between the two communities.
‘Living, moving, breathing’ road
The high costs of building the road and maintaining it are not only because of the premium paid for any construction project in Northern Canada, but because the road is built on what is essentially a living terrain of streams, tundra and rock.
“It’s a living, moving, breathing form of infrastructure,” said Kevin McLeod, the assistant deputy minister of asset management for the Northwest Territories government.
“We are in a very complex environment in the North. It’s a project that has never been undertaken anywhere else in…