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In the Legislative Assembly on February 9th, 2024. See this topic in context.

Minister's Statement 8-20(1): 2023-2024 Winter Road Construction Challenges
Ministers' Statements

February 9th, 2024

Caroline Wawzonek

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, destructive events like flooding and wildfire are top of mind when considering how climate change has challenged the Northwest Territories in recent years. There is, however, another climate-related challenge affecting many of the territory's residents: delayed winter and ice road construction.

Mr. Speaker, our winter road system connects nine Northwest Territories communities that are not accessible by all-season roads, with highway crews building and maintaining approximately 1,400 kilometers of winter roads, ice roads, and ice crossings every year. To put this in perspective, that is roughly the same distance as Yellowknife to Edmonton.

This road system has many benefits, including reducing the cost of living in affected communities and connecting residents to opportunities. Recognizing that delayed construction can have far-reaching consequences, the Government of the Northwest Territories is working hard to adapt to unpredictable conditions. We remain committed to building, operating, and maintaining accessible winter roads for all residents.

The Marine Transportation Services resupply of fuel and cargo to northern communities last year brought a new set of challenges, Mr. Speaker. With the last barge of the season to Norman Wells unable to sail due to wildfire delays, much needed fuel and cargo had to get to its destination in other ways. Last year, the total volume of petroleum products delivered by winter roads to six Northwest Territories communities totaled close to 5.2 million litres. This year, we are adding approximately 2 million more litres of jet fuel, as well as extra cargo, doubling the number of trucks on the road to 400. Mr. Speaker, knowing there would be a surge in traffic this year, the Department of Infrastructure has put several measures in place to ensure the safety of travelers as well as the integrity of the highway system.

The Mackenzie Valley Winter Road opened to heavy traffic on January 22nd and is the lifeline to the communities by transport truck. The highway itself has been widened where possible and additional signage has been placed along the route, including kilometre markers and electronic signs reminding drivers of safe driving requirements. Maintenance, patrols, and checkpoints have been increased and we are working with local bylaw and RCMP officers to join in those efforts where possible. We have expanded our maintenance activities, including additional flooding, and having more equipment available on all zones of the road to address maintenance issues in a timely manner. Our highway maintenance vehicles have also been retrofitted with mobile Starlink satellite dishes to improve communication and incident response, and we have staged equipment at critical winter road locations to assist as required.

Mr. Speaker, I also want to encourage road users across the territory to check out the Department of Infrastructure's website which has helpful tips and resources for safe winter driving. Materials targeted at commercial drivers are also being handed out at weigh stations and check stops and have been provided to industry to share with commercial drivers. The safety of winter travelers is our number 1 priority, and we want to equip road users with the information to make safe choices.

Finally, I need to stress that driving on a closed highway can be extremely dangerous and is an offence under the Public Highways Act and can also constitute an offence under the Criminal Code. Road closures and barricades are put in place to prevent access to a potentially hazardous route and are used to keep road users safe and to reduce the risk faced by maintenance crews. I recognize that closures can be frustrating and inconvenient, but they are not put in place if not required or urgent.

Mr. Speaker, the climate-related impacts we have seen over the past year have shortened our resupply season and challenged winter road construction, further highlighting the need for all-season roads. Crews are working diligently to overcome these challenges, and I want to thank them for their continued dedication. I also want to thank our partners in industry, community governments, and law enforcement for supporting all of these efforts. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 8-20(1): 2023-2024 Winter Road Construction Challenges
Ministers' Statements

The Speaker

The Speaker Shane Thompson

Thank you, Minister of Infrastructure. Ministers' statements. Members' statements. Member from Inuvik Boot Lake.