The NWT’s Legislative Assembly was divided over a proposed new walking path that would connect to the legislature.
As part of the assembly’s ongoing review of the 2022-2023 capital expenditures budget, members discussed the merits of the proposed $400,000 walking trail, designed to parallel the existing road and give pedestrians a safer path to the legislature without having to share the road with vehicle traffic.
During Monday’s Committee of the Whole Meeting, Speaker of the House Frederick Blake Jr. answered questions about the proposed project, accompanied by sergeant-at-arms Brian Thagard and assembly clerk Tim Mercer as witnesses.
“These funds were required to address safety concerns, so we wanted to put a focus on bringing folks safely up to the Legislative Assembly from the entrance way to the capital site up by Highway 4,” said Thagard.
There’s already a walking trail that connects to the legislature. However, because there’s a crosswalk at the main road to the building, pedestrians often take that route instead. This means pedestrians are often sharing the road with cars, even though there’s no dedicated pedestrian infrastructure.
“We’ve noticed over the years that people generally take the shortest route possible to get where they’re going, so nine times out of 10, they’re not gonna go that way, in our experience,” Thagard said of the existing trail.
Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly said he has often complained about the dangers of the existing road used by pedestrians.
“I do support this expenditure to make sure that we have safe passage for pedestrians,” he said.
However, Minister of Education, Culture and Employment R.J. Simpson said he had “serious reservations” about the project, especially due to its high cost. He also asked how many accidents have occurred on the main road. Thagard said that to his knowledge, there had been no accidents for as long as legislature has been in its existing location. However, since pedestrian traffic is increasing on the path, “we’re concerned that it’s just a matter of time (until) something happens,” he said.
Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson also criticized the project, saying that although he supports pedestrian infrastructure, he couldn’t justify the $400,000 price tag.
“I’m struggling to see it as a bit of a priority,” he said.
Blake said this $400,000 pricetag includes $40,000 for tree clearing and $75,000 each for materials and installation.
Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby asked if work will be done on the main road itself. Blake said that was planned for a later date, and that the new pedestrian walkway was only “phase one” of the plan.
Nokleby also asked if the assembly had considered widening the existing road instead of building a new path. Blake said this would actually cost more, and would still pose a safety hazard in the winter when the road markings are covered up.
Discussion of the capital expenditures budget will continue at Tuesday’s sitting.