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NWT Mobility

Construction of the Tibbitt-to-Contwoyto Winter Road is expected to begin on Dec. 15 and the route to the mines should be operational by Feb. 1. This year, 8,000 northbound loads hauling more than 260,000 tonnes are expected to travel up the 400-km winter road. - photo courtesy of the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road Joint Venture

No secondary access ice road
Tibbitt-to-Contwoyto winter road construction expected to begin by Dec. 15

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Friday, December 6, 2013

Here in the North, colder is better for a lot of reasons - not the least of which is for construction of the 400-km winter road used to resupply the mines North of Yellowknife.

"Things are progressing well and on schedule," said Ron Near, director of winter road operations for the Tibbitt-to-Contwoyto Winter Road Joint Venture.

Near has already been out measuring ice along the proposed route and said although a late, warm fall initially had him worried, recent weeks of cold temperatures without snow created ideal conditions for ice building.

Crews will begin more extensive testing of the ice on Dec. 5 and 6, and construction is expected to begin on Dec. 15.

The road should be completed by the end of January and open to truck traffic by Feb. 1, said Near.

"It's pretty incredible when you think of it. It's about 400 kilometres of road built in a month."

There will be no secondary access route this year.

Normally, the secondary access route connects to the Ingraham Trail at Prosperous Lake and meets up with the main road just north of Gordon Lake.

It was primarily used by empty trucks returning from the mines.

The absence of a secondary route will mean more traffic on the Ingraham Trail. Near stressed that the joint venture is aware of this and have made plans to step up monitoring on the road to ensure there are no issues.

"Safety is our number one priority so one of the changes this year is I will be having winter road security patrolling the Ingraham Trail 24/7 for the duration of the project," he said.

The decision not to build the secondary route was made primarily for financial reasons.

"It was very expensive for never having loaded trucks on," said Near. "It was also an operational decision. We're just moving in a different direction."

The lack of a secondary access road is good news for snowmobilers, said Bruce Hewlko, president of the Great Slave Snowmobile Association.

Club members often run their machines up Prosperous Lake to Johnston Lake on weekends, and navigating the narrow portages can be dangerous with oncoming truck traffic.

"The trails for the bush will still be there," said Hewlko. "So it will actually be better for snowmobilers."

The primary route, which services Ekati and Diavik with spurs off to Snap Lake and Gahcho Kue, is expected to be ready for traffic by Feb. 1 and should remain open until the end of March.

During that time, 8,000 northbound loads hauling more than 260,000 tonnes are expected to travel up the winter road, significantly more than last year when 6,017 northbound loads and 454 loaded backhauls carried 223,206 tonnes over the winter road.

However, Near does not expect the extreme cold of last winter to repeat itself.

"Last year, we broke every record possible for ice thickness," he said.

Thinner ice means more trucks carrying smaller loads.

From what he saw at Tibbitt lake last weekend, Near said things this winter are shaping up just fine.

"The ice quality is excellent," he said.

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