Construction is in full swing on a 10-year program, launched in 2014, to upgrade transportation infrastructure in the rugged Northwest Territories of Canada. The work includes rehabilitation of nine bridges, construction of a four-bay highway maintenance facility and upgrades to major highways and all-season roads.
The federal government is contributing up to $57 million toward the projects through the provincial-territorial infrastructure component of a national and regional projects fund and more than $59 million through its small communities fund.
According to Infrastructure Canada, the $8-billion projects fund "support infrastructure projects of national, regional and local significance that contribute to objectives related to economic growth, a clean environment and stronger communities."
Eligible projects include highways and roads, connectivity and broadband projects, disaster mitigation infrastructure and many other forms of infrastructure.
The region, noted for its arctic and sub-arctic climates, tundra and boreal forest, has a population of just under 45,000 and covers 1.346 million sq kilometers.
Infrastructure Canada's website also notes that "over the duration of the 10-year 2014 New Building Canada Fund, each province and territory will receive a base amount of $197 million plus a per capita allocation."
In addition to this federal funding, the territorial government is spending more than $39 million on its highway improvement projects.
The Canadian government has also created a website that provides an investment breakdown of all the infrastructure projects and programs that have occurred in the Northwest Territories since 2002. The site notes that $125 million in funding has come from the federal Gas Tax Fund, which is a permanent source of funding.
For residents of the Northwest Territories, these abstract forms of funding have translated into practical forms of infrastructure for traversing cold and sometimes dangerous terrain. They are already reaping the benefits of recent improvements.
Major rehabilitation of the Buffalo River Bridge is mostly completed. The work will extend the bridge's service life and allow it to accommodate modern highway loads.
In addition to painting the trusses, workers added steel plates to reinforce them. They also installed more floor beams and carried out concrete repairs to the abutments and piers. Many components of the Buffalo River Bridge had to be replaced, including the curbs and bridge rail, the expansion joints, the top half of the concrete deck and the bridge bearings. Although some additional minor work will be performed on the bridge in 2019, those activities will not require lane closures and will be focused upon the piers.
In 2018, minor work will occur on the Trout River Bridge, a three-span bridge that was constructed 49 years ago. This two-lane bridge consists of a 9.75-meter steel girder span, a 36.6-m deck truss center span and a 14.2-m steel girder span. The work will include the repair of concrete deck ends, deck joint replacement and erosion repair at the base of Pier 2.
Also in 2018, regulatory permitting and geotechnical investigations will begin for the Oscar Creek Bridge. This 66-m-long steel girder bridge, with a composite precast concrete deck, will enable residents to cross Oscar Creek more reliably. A construction tender is expected for the 2019-2020 winter season. In addition to this work, the Dept. of Infrastructure is looking at options for replacing the Frank Channel Bridge, which requires major rehabilitation, according to engineering analysis.
Khaled Almaaz, a bridge engineer who has worked extensively in Canada, says that for bridges in the Northwest Territories, there are unique considerations. The cold causes cyclic expanding and contracting and, in cases of water crossings, ice jams can present problems. If structural evaluations and rehabilitation tasks aren't executed properly or in a timely manner, the effects could be catastrophic, "or, at least, a dramatic increase in maintenance cost would be guaranteed," says Almaaz.
In a press release, Wally Schumann, minister of infrastructure for the Government of the Northwest Territories, stated, "Through our partnership with Canada, we have been able to make improvements to almost every highway in the Northwest Territories in the past two years. Significant and meaningful investment in infrastructure is critical to the development of our territory. We look forward to continuing to work with the federal government to advance projects that will have long-lasting impact on Northerners." He also noted that the newly improved and extended highway system will help connect communities and reduce the cost of living.
According to Chris Facey, the owner of a third-party logistics company, the infrastructure overhaul could also help with freight transport. Facey says, "Modernized and reliable infrastructure will connect the NWT communities with much-needed resources. From a transportation standpoint, these improvements are necessary to establish safe, consistent and efficient service to these areas, which is the bedrock for their economic development."