Driving to top of the world just got much easier, here's why
Wednesday, April 19, 2017, 6:38 PM - For decades, the distant northern communities of Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, nestled in a corner of the Northwest Territories near to the Beaufort Sea, were linked by road only during the winter.
The two communities are separated by a mere 137 km, but the only overland route has been an ice road on the Mackenzie River. During the warmer months, air access is the only way into Tuktoyaktuk.
But now, after more than 40 years of being prepared every season, the ice road is no more, having "officially" closed for the last time earlier in April. In its place will be a new gravel highway, linking the two communities year-round for the first time ever.
The Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway is set to be completed by November 2017, a few months past Canada's 150th anniversary, after a four year construction effort in one of the most difficult work environments in Canada. The short road cost around $300 million to complete.
"We have had the ice road for over forty years. We look forward to the opening of the ITH with great anticipation but we will always remember and be grateful to the people who made the ice road happen year after year," Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Darrel Nasogaluak said in a release from the territorial government.
The highway has already been an economic boon for the region. The territorial government says 75 per cent of the workers were hired locally, and estimates the boost to GDP at $783 million. It's also set to make residents' lives easier, with access to goods and services guaranteed all year round.
"It's going to be so much cheaper with the groceries," former Tuktoyaktuk mayor Merv Gruben told CBC News. "As soon as the ice road is gone, you see your perishables, like your eggs and your vegetables and your fruits, just go crazy because we've got to fly them in. It's a hell of a big difference."
But it's beyond November that the road's real potential lies. Limited road access meant limited tourist access, and with rising interest in the North, residents are hoping more people will be willing to make the journey to Canada's Arctic shore, providing a needed boost.
However, Eileen Jacobson told CBC News the easier access may have some unintended downsides.
"Anyone with a vehicle can go on the all-weather road, go on a holiday, bring their family especially when school is over and bring more people into the community, people come to visit," Jacobson told the broadcaster. "And whatever comes with the good also comes with the bad. Meaning more booze might come in. More drugs."