People who want to visit the Beaufort Sea — the stretch of water between the tip of Canada’s Northwest Territories and the top of the world — will get a boost in November as the nation finishes the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway. Previously, ground transportation in the area was limited to the winter months when a strong ice road would form, but the highway promises to change the lives of the inhabitants of coastal Tuktoyaktuk in many ways. The Arctic highway is set to open in time for celebrations of Canada’s 150th birthday.
The CDN$300 million project involved over three years’ worth of construction, with crews working in harsh conditions in 24-hour shifts and living in makeshift camps. The road passes through terrain that includes a large percentage of permafrost, meaning that the surface under the road can shift around as warmer weather melts winter ice. As a result, the road’s surface sits on over 2 meters — about 6 feet — of gravel in hopes of stabilizing the road.
The opening of the road, meant to be used year-round, both promises and threatens to change the town of Tuktoyaktuk. Right now, goods including perishable foods are brought in by trucks in winter, who use the thick ice road to access the town. Once the ice begins to melt, though, the trucks can no longer bring in items, and everything has to come in by plane. The cost of perishable goods soars with depressing regularity.
The highway, though, means trucks will be able to bring in perishables at any time, and town residents can drive to Inuvik for extras if they want. Costs should stabilize and make it easier for residents to obtain them. Unfortunately, the highway also means that alcohol and possibly more drugs will be easier to get as well.
One more obstacle that the town will have to deal with is that the only forseeable financial gain from the road will be limited tourism. When the previous prime minister, Stephen Harper, awarded the construction money, he believed the road would also help with oil drilling access. Justin Trudeau has nixed that, however, creating a potential financial hole.
Regardless of the effects, though, this engineering marvel will be open in November for adventurous drivers who’d like to visit Tuktoyaktuk and the Arctic Ocean.