After three years of work, the government of Canada’s Northwest Territories has announced that construction crews have joined the northern and southern segments of a highway that will eventually reach the Arctic Ocean, the first in the country’s history to do so.
The road, which is entirely within the Arctic Circle, will reach the coast at the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk in the Inuvik Region of the territories. The settlement is presently only reachable by ice road in the winter, and by air.
Work under way on the highway (Government of the NWT)
Amarjeet Sohi, Canada’s minister of infrastructure and communities, said: "The Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway is an essential component of northern transportation infrastructure. Not only will it create jobs and economic benefits for northerners, but it will connect communities, support the transportation of goods and increase the potential for economic development in the Northwest Territories."
The road will form a 137km extension of the Dempster Highway, which connects the Klondike Highway in the south to Inuvik.
The government of the Northwest Territories said on its website: "The contractor has successfully joined the two construction spreads with a first layer of embankment material placed on 7 April. Geotextile fabric and additional earthworks to bring the embankment up to grade will be put in place by the end the month."
One of the overriding priorities of construction was the preservation of the region’s permafrost. Work was carried out only in the winter to avoid melting it, and the roadbed will be at least 1.8m above the tundra to protect it. The highway will have a speed limit of 70km/h.
The $300m (US$235m) highway is to be open to traffic by autumn 2017. It will then be the northern-most section of the planned Mackenzie Valley Highway, which will connect a number of Mackenzie Valley towns and the Arctic Ocean with the rest of the country all year round.
Although Tuktoyaktuk is home to only 854 people, it has acquired a high media profile thanks to its appearance in the second season of Ice Road Truckers. In 1995 it hosted a rock concert by Hole, Metallica, Moist, Cake and Veruca Salt to launch Molson Beer’s ice-brewed beer.
A documentary on the experience of travelling overland to Tuktoyaktuk can be viewed here.