Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway Project

The Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway (ITH) is a new, 138 kilometre highway from Inuvik to Tuktoyakuk.

The all-season highway opened on November 15, 2017 after four years of construction. Previously, Tuktoyaktuk was only accessible by air during warmer months and by ice road in the winter. 

The ITH was built by EGT Northwind Ltd. under a contract with the Department of Infrastructure (INF), while INF staff and advisors worked with the contractor to effectively guide, review, evaluate the final design.

Approximately 71 kilometres are on Inuvialuit private lands. The rest of the route is located on Crown lands.

Quick Facts

  • The highway is the first in Canada to reach the Arctic Ocean, thereby connecting Canada from sea to sea to sea. 
  • Building a highway to the Arctic Ocean was a major priority for the territorial and federal governments since at least the 1960s.
  • More than 1,000 person years of employment and several long-term jobs have been created as a result of the highway.
  • The project delivered training to approximately 130 individuals as Class 1 and 3 drivers, equipment operators, summer students, and apprentices
  • Residents of Tuktoyaktuk are benefiting from a reduced cost of living, as goods can now be brought in by ground year-round.
  • ​Tourism has increased in the region substantially.
  • Residents have improved access to health care, educational and economic opportunities.
  • Typical ‘cut and fill’ techniques were not used for this project. To protect the permafrost, the design only uses a fill technique. Geotextile fabric was placed between the existing ground and the construction materials along the entire highway.
  • The bulk of construction activities took place during the winter months to preserve the permafrost.
  • The raw resources required for the highway construction were sourced from select locations near the highway route.
  • More than 1,000 person years of employment and 40 long-term jobs were created in the north, plus another 860 and 9 long-term jobs in other parts of Canada;
  • Goods can now be shipped year-round to Tuktoyaktuk;
  • ​Tourism is projected to increase by $2.7 million annually, creating 22 full-time equivalent jobs in the NWT;
  • Inuvik’s role as regional commercial and business hub has been strengthened and expanded;
  • Opportunities for family, social, recreational and sporting interactions have increased;
  • Residents have improved access to health care, educational and economic opportunities.

Environment

The Department of Infrastructure (INF) has prepared a comprehensive Environmental Management Plan to mitigate any adverse environmental effects from the Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk highway construction project. This includes:

Training and employment

  • The main training effort was on the heavy equipment operators resulting in more than 70 individuals receiving training on rock truck and excavator equipment using a simulator
  • The project has delivered training to approximately 130 individuals as Class 1 and 3 drivers, equipment operators, summer students, and apprentices
  • Additional opportunities delivered during the summer of 2015 provided specialized training for ten individuals to operate specific pieces of heavy equipment, such as graders or excavators. Additional training opportunities will be available in 2016 for 12 to 15 individuals
  • Front line project personnel received training on practical insights into the practices necessary to protect water resources during highway construction. DFO provided a fish biologist to discuss habitat protection and sediment and erosion control measures
  • Project staff and monitors received Predator Defence Training
  • Contractor E. Gruben’s Transport Ltd (EGT) provided a Class 1 and Class 3 Driver Training Course in Tuktoyaktuk to respond to the need for capable truck drivers and heavy equipment drivers.
  • Northwind Industries Ltd. (Northwind) ran an 11-week workplace readiness program for Indigenous workers. The course was run in partnership with the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) and the Gwich’in Tribal Council, as well as the territorial and federal governments. The training program was designed to prepare young people for the workforce, or as a refresher for people who have been out of work for some time. 

Research

The ITH project has involved numerous research activities. INF has undertaken and supported these projects with the purpose of: 

  1.  Assessing performance of the highway
  2.  Providing advance alerts to potential problems
  3.  Building expertise for future application.

To date, contributions from Transport Canada’s Northern Transportation Adaptation Initiative total $1,117,200.

Many academics and numerous research institutions, both territorial and national, are also involved with this work. Regulatory bodies are interested in the findings of this research and, as such, have been supportive of the changes, additional requests, and permitting needed for this work.


Research is carried out in a number of ways, from long term monitoring projects to test sections in the embankment or one time measurements. Some of the work helps us understand how the surrounding environment behaves (e.g. permafrost, hydrology), which provides context for other research and for the development of strategies to manage risk and mitigate concerns. 

The ongoing monitoring, data collection and data analysis of the projects along the ITH corridor will provide valuable information towards developing resilient and sustainable northern transportation infrastructure in the presence of accelerating climate change. 

Historical timeline

  • 1960s:  The concept of an all-weather road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk becomes a priority goal for residents of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR)
  • 1960s:  Oil & gas exploration begins in the Beaufort Sea and Mackenzie Delta with offshore activities peaking in the mid 1970s to late 1980s
  • 1974:    Public Works Canada (PWC) surveys a 140 kilometre route between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk and delivers preliminary engineering studies, survey maps, design profiles, and identifies gravel sources
  • 1984:    Inuvialuit Final Agreement is signed by the Inuvialuit and the Governments of Canada, the Northwest Territories and Yukon
  • 1990s:  The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) reviews earlier studies, collects additional environmental and socio-economic information, conducts community consultations, and re-examines the route and design
  • 1998:   GNWT releases the Proposed InuvikTuktoyaktuk Road Environmental and Socio-Economic Baseline Report
  • 1999:  GNWT completes a cost benefit analysis and a transportation strategy describing the completion of the Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway (ITH) project  as a major policy objective
  • Early 2000s:  GNWT opens a dialogue with the Government of Canada about the ITH project during proposals for infrastructure development
  • August 2009: The Town of Inuvik and the Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk receive confirmation that the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) would fund the completion of a Project Description Report (PDR) for the ITH
  • February 2010:  PDR is released by the GNWT, Town of Inuvik, and Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk
  • April 2010:  The project is referred to the Environmental Impact Review Board (EIRB) for environmental assessment and review
  • June 2010:  The Department of Infrastructure (INF) releases its economic analysis of the project
  • Autumn 2010:  The EIRB holds community and public meetings on the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Terms of Reference
  • Summer 2011:  The EIRB holds public consultations on the conformity review of the draft EIS
  • Summer 2012:  The EIRB invites public involvement in technical sessions
  • September 2012:  The EIRB holds public hearings on the ITH project
  • January 2013:  The EIRB  submits a supportive final report on the proposal to construct the ITH
  • February 2013:  The GNWT responds to the EIRB report
  • May 2013:  The GNWT releases its Risk Matrix report for the project
  • Winter/Spring 2013:  Environmental regulations and permitting process underway
  • Winter/Spring 2013:  Work begins to upgrade the access road to Source 177 which will become the first 19 kilometres of the ITH
  • Summer/Fall 2013:  Work begins on upgrading Navy Road, a five kilometre section of road in Inuvik thta will connect to the southern end of the ITH
  • Summer/Fall 2013:  INF submits application to the NWT Water Board, and land use and quarrying permit applications to the Inuvialuit Land Administration (ILA) and to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC)
  • October 2013:  Public hearings on the water licence application are held in Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk
  • December 2013:  The project recieves a water licence from the NWT Water Board and land use and quarrying permits from AANDC
  • January 2014:  The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and the GNWT reach agreement on royalties and land exchange for the project
  • January 2014:  ILA issues land use and quarrying permits
  • January 2014:  The project company, EGT - Northwind Ltd., is authorized to initiate construction of the Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway
  • November 15, 2017: The highway opens to the public after four years of construction. Over 1,000 people attend the opening ceremonies in Inuvik and Tuktoyakuk, including the Governor General of Canada, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette. 

Opening - November 15, 2017

The ITH officially opened to the public on November 15, 2017.

The opening, which involves opening ceremonies in Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk and a ribbon cutting on the highway, was attended by: 

  • Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada;
  • The Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities;
  • The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs;
  • The Honourable Robert R. McLeod, Premier of the Northwest Territories;and
  • The Honourable Wally Schumann, Minister of Infrastructure; and
  • Dignitaries and residents from across the Northwest Territories