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The Deh Cho Bridge has, for the first time, allowed for 24/7 traffic on the Highway 3 in the springtime. Allowing commercial trucking year round has prompted the territory to enforce a weight limit on transport trucks to protect the road when it is vulnerable during the spring melt. The result could mean an increase in springtime shipping costs that many thought the bridge would alleviate. - photo courtesy of GNWT Department of Transportation

Open bridge leads to load restrictions
Spring transport trucks damaging Highway 3, says GNWT official; increased shipping expenses leave business owners seeing red

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Friday, May 17, 2013

A load restriction reducing the amount of goods transport trucks can carry to Yellowknife have sparked withering criticism of the Deh Cho Bridge.

Compounding the frustration of city business owners was the short notice they received of the restriction which limited trucks to 75 per cent of their maximum freight.

"Am I annoyed? Of course I'm annoyed," said Yellowknife Co-Op general manager Ben Walker, who was notified of the restrictions on Wednesday, a day before it came into effect. "For the consumer, maybe nothing goes up. But our Co-op members will pay for this. It comes out of their pocket."

Walker said the Yellowknife Co-Op's freighting costs for groceries spiked by 34 per cent as a result of the restrictions because more trucks were needed to fulfill the store's supply needs.

He said a price increase would ultimately depend on whether competitors - who are also facing added shipping costs - raise their prices.

This is the first time road restrictions have been implemented on Highway 3 because in prior years, ferry service was suspended as the Mackenzie River was breaking up for about one month, said Earl Blacklock, spokesperson with the GNWT Department of Transportation.

"During this period, there wouldn't be any trucks coming across for these three or four weeks every year," he said. "So, which is preferable, 75 per cent or zero?"

The restrictions, which affect Highway 3 from the juncture with Highway 1 on the far side of the Mackenzie River to Behchoko, were necessary because water saturating the ground beneath the highway, matched with the weight of fully-loaded trucks, was damaging the road, said Kevin McLeod, director of highways.

Inspectors noted heavy trucks were causing deep ruts in the pavement, he said, adding that if a restriction had not been put in place, the road could have been badly damaged, causing not only freighting and traffic delays but additional costs for the taxpayer.

"Putting those restrictions in at the right time for a short period of time protects that infrastructure for the rest of the year," said McLeod. "I would much rather them bring 75 per cent safety than 100 per cent doing a million dollars of damage, which would only be passed on to taxpayers at the end of the day."

Transport restrictions are common practice in the spring all over the world, both DOT officials said.

Blair Weatherby, past president of the NWT Trucking Association, said although road restrictions are a common practice, he said the issue was not properly considered when the trucking association raised it when the Deh Cho Bridge was still just a proposed project.

"We were saying, 'This can't work.' We aren't surprised, we're upset," said Weatherby. "It's impossible for it to be cheaper to live in Yellowknife because of that bridge."

Trucking companies were informed of the restrictions Wednesday, about 25 hours before they came into effect, which Weatherby says is not normal.

"Really, they should have sent out a notice a week or so ahead of time saying this may happen or this could happen," he said.

One company that is losing a significant amount of money is Arctic Crane, based out of Grande Prairie, Alta. The company brought a 59,000 kg crane to Yellowknife for a one-day job on Wednesday. Even though he had acquired the proper permits for a return trip, general manager Shane Fraser says the crane is stranded in Yellowknife, costing the company $2,000 for Thursday alone. Each additional day the crane cannot work is a $6,000 to $10,000 loss for Arctic Crane.

Fraser learned of the transport restrictions at 10 a.m. Thursday through the trucking company contracted for transporting the crane.

"Had I been phoned or contacted, I would have been able to get my crane out before noon today," he said. "I can obviously understand why they had to close it for safety reasons, but they should have to honour existing permits."

Blacklock, who found out about the restrictions on Wednesday, agreed the short notice was regrettable.

"Could people have been informed better? Yes, I think that we would say the short notice is something we're taking a look at. The expectation was that we would have to have some kind of a road ban but we weren't expecting it this early."

The restrictions are expected to last between seven and nine days, said Blacklock.

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