NWT weighs road to self-reliance
YELLOWKNIFE (Jan. 14) — The Northwest Territories is considering an all-weather highway from Yellowknife to a proposed saltwater port at Bathurst Inlet some 800 kilometres away, opening Arctic mines to truck traffic year round.
One feasibility study of the proposed $600-million road will be complete by March, and two others are ongoing, said Russ Neudorf, senior transportation planner with the N.W.T. Dept. of Transportation in Yellowknife. The studies include aerial surveys of potential routes, an environment impact assessment, and financing options.
“Mining is essential to our economy,” Neudorf explained. “All-season access to mineral deposits in the territory would help the government become more self-reliant.” Roughly 75% of the government’s budget comes from the federal level.
Given fiscal constraints, Neudorf said, the question is how to pay for a project that has been compared in scope to building the Alaska Highway.
“That’s the big issue,” he said. “Obviously, $600 million is a lot of money. In order for the highway to be built, it would likely require funding from a combination of government and private industry. In order to do that, you’d have to show strong benefits for the cost.”
One option would see the territory enter a public-private partnership to build and maintain the highway, or at least a critical portion. Nuna Logistics, a Vancouver-based construction firm, and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association want to build 300 kilometres of road between Bathurst Inlet and the Izok Lake mineral deposit to the south, one of the largest undeveloped base metal deposits in North America.
“Mining companies are eager to develop Izok Lake and have indicated that they’d be willing to pay a toll to use a road that would allow access,” Neudorf said. “Activity on that stretch of road would be such that the project could be self-financing.”
Neudorf could not say the same for the proposed 500 or so kilometres that would continue on to the Yellowknife area. “Other deposits are served by existing winter roads,” he admitted. “There doesn’t appear to be a pressing need for an all-weather roadway elsewhere.”
Following public meetings last summer, government officials earmarked $2 million to study the feasibility of the cross-Arctic highway — called the Slave Geologic Province Transportation Corridor — and three other infrastructure projects (the Mackenzie Valley Highway extension; Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk road; and acceleration of Hwy. 3 reconstruction between Rae and Yellowknife).
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