At least one lane of the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway (ITH) will remain open during maintenance this summer, according to Merle Carpenter, regional superintendent for the Government of the Northwest Territories Department of Infrastructure.

The newly-completed Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway, pictured, is one of the reasons for the projected increase in tourism to Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk this summer.
Samantha McKay/NNSL photo

“Our intent is to do everything we can to keep it open,” said Carpenter. “It’s been constructed for the last four years. Any real washouts have been addressed every spring, and they’ve built extra supports when there is extra water running in a certain area.”

Carpenter said there may be a few hiccups, but he doesn’t expect any major closures of the new highway, which opened in November 2017.

“There might be some patches here and there. It’s a brand new, $300 million road that has never been done in quite a few decades, so there’s going to be hiccups,” said Carpenter. “We certainly don’t want to close it for the travelling public, but we will maintain it to a standard like any other standard of highway in Canada, so we will make sure it is safe and secure.”

Russell Newmark, CEO of E. Gruben’s Transport, one of the companies that worked on the ITH, said the ITH will be no different from any other highway that has a few minor closures in the summer.

“I don’t think there’s any more particular issues with the ITH than there is with any other highway in the Northwest Territories,” said Newmark. “All roads will have issues.”

Ed Grozic, a permafrost engineer who worked on the ITH from its inception to completion, said designers’ biggest challenge was building a road in the continuous permafrost environment.

“Permafrost that has a lot of ice in it, when it thaws, it turns into mush or water and flows away,” said Grozic. “So, building a road on this ground, that when frozen is hard, but when it thaws it basically loses all strength, that was a design challenge that we had to really think about.”

He said the highway was designed with a thick embankment to keep the highway stable.

“The concept was to build a thick enough embankment that the heat in the summer months would not penetrate through the embankment into the original ground, and thus thaw the original ground, preventing stability issues,” he said. “The original ground will stay frozen because of the thick embankment.”

He said this method of road construction has been tested and is known to work, but it is the first of its length in Canada.

The road will shift and move just like any other road, new or old, he said.

“This road has changed the thermal equilibrium of the original ground, and so now, the environment has to reach a new thermal equilibrium, and that might be five years, seven years from now,” he said. “Things will firm up and settle down and firm up with age, and that is a natural process for many things that are built.”

Grozic said he doesn’t think there will be major problems with the road that will cause major closures.

“To dramatize it and say that the road is going to fall apart, that’s an over exaggeration. It’s not going to fail and go to snot,” he said. “Nobody is a magician and can give an answer about what will happen to the road with 100 per cent certainty.”

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