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Kivalliq highway would be a boon for region

Project would come with expenses, challenges as well
Stewart Burnett is editor of Kivalliq News. Photo courtesy of Stewart Burnett

Reception to the idea of an all-season Kivalliq highway connecting communities is largely positive.

The benefits are obvious: enhanced ability to travel between communities or out on the land; potential for reduced store prices and cost of living expenses with more shipping options; and an alternative to expensive air travel. Plus, it would probably be a beautiful drive.

Surely, the cost would be enormous. When the Government of the Northwest Territories built a road connecting Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, which opened in 2017, it cost $300 million. That road is 137 kilometres long, whereas the proposed Kivalliq highway route covers more than 700 kilometres.

Since that road opened, Tuktoyaktuk is no longer isolated and has become more of a tourist attraction for people who want to drive up and touch the Arctic Ocean. It has also meant more social ills, such as drugs, from the south have made their way into the community. Today, Tuktoyaktuk looks more like Inuvik than it did before.

If a Kivalliq highway were to go through, it’s likely that Arviat, Baker Lake, Whale Cove and Chesterfield Inlet would become more similar to Rankin Inlet, for better or worse.

With sports so central to life in the Kivalliq, one imagines the road would allow more teams and players to travel to regional tournaments, which would be welcomed. It would also be interesting to see what effect the road would have on policing, search and rescue and emergency medical services, as one person wondered while writing an online comment.

Some hope that a road would mean they could travel between communities when planes are unable to fly, but a blizzard would likely knock out road service in addition to planes. And beyond the cost of creating the road, the maintenance would be monumental. The snowdrifts alone would be a constant job in winter months, and as seen by the Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway, annual upkeep would be expensive.

For the road to become a reality, there needs to be an economic case made for it beyond reducing living expenses in the communities. That means the road would need to benefit mining and similar industries. Agnico Eagle is already having a hard enough time extending the Meliadine gold mine, so one wonders if the appetite for the road matches the territory’s appetite for the means to pay for it.

And, of course, no road is going through if it’s going to have a substantially negative effect on the caribou. It’s hard to imagine the construction and use of the road not having an impact in that regard.

A Kivalliq highway is a tantalizing idea and it’s good that the Government of Nunavut is seriously considering it. But there is a long way, lots of money, and a book of concerns and questions between now and it becoming reality.