Road likely closed for days while city assesses risk after landslide, Whitehorse mayor says

·3 min read
The landslide that took place on the escarpment in Whitehorse on April 30. Whitehorse Mayor Laura Cabott said the road, Robert Service Way, will 'likely be closed for a few days.' (Submitted by government of Yukon - image credit)
The landslide that took place on the escarpment in Whitehorse on April 30. Whitehorse Mayor Laura Cabott said the road, Robert Service Way, will 'likely be closed for a few days.' (Submitted by government of Yukon - image credit)

One of the two main access roads into downtown Whitehorse will be closed for at least a few days, according to the mayor, after a landslide on the weekend sent a torrent of mud, rocks and trees across the roadway and onto the popular pedestrian trail alongside it.

Mayor Laura Cabott said the city is assessing the area where it happened. The landslide forced the closure of Robert Service Way from the roundabout to Miles Canyon Road, as well as the Millennium and Airport Trails.

"What we know at the moment is that the area around the slide remains unstable. It is considered a high risk and an active site," she said on Monday morning, adding crews were not yet able to go in and remove the debris from the area.

"It's just not safe for anyone to go in there to move that," she said.

Two landslides

Around 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, mud, rocks and trees came flying down the steep slope of the escarpment.

Bystanders say there were actually two slides — a small one followed by a much larger one.

Submitted by Lenore Morris
Submitted by Lenore Morris

The debris flew over Robert Service Way and the Millennium Trail and took out a guard rail.

While no one was injured, the slide narrowly missed some cars and people who were walking and biking along the popular trail.

Robert Service Way is the main route into downtown for people coming from south of the city.

Downtown is still accessible on its north end via Two Mile Hill but city officials were asking people on Monday to work from home if possible, or consider carpooling, taking transit or using active transportation like cycling.

Assessing site

City engineering staff have been on the site, assessing the landslide since Saturday, as well as the rest of the escarpment which borders the city's downtown area. The city's airport is above the escarpment, and the Airport Trail snakes between the airport and the top of the cliffs.

Last year, another escarpment slide closed a portion of the Airport Trail.

Paul Tukker/CBC
Paul Tukker/CBC

A landslide specialist from outside the territory was also on the way to Whitehorse to assist city staff, according to the mayor on Monday.

She said they have to find out what caused the landslide and assess the entire escarpment to make sure it's safe.

"We have not heard that there is any danger at this point right now, but that is part of the monitoring and assessment situation right now," said Cabott.

According to government of Yukon statistics, more than 3,000 people live in downtown Whitehorse.

Cabott said the city did some sloughing last year in two areas of the escarpment.

"One … was near a residential unit, sort of closer to Robert Service Way in the south end there. But as far as further up, we haven't seen anything, but we are looking at that," she said.

She added she knows the closures are inconvenient for drivers to get in and out of the city's downtown but vowed to get the roads opened as soon as possible.

"This is climate change," said Cabott. "And we, in Whitehorse, are not immune from it .… We as a community need to do what we can to slow down climate change, to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions."

She added the city also needs to spend time, resources and money to adapt to climate change.

"We're not there … [and] this is just a perfect example to remind us that we really need to focus on that," she said.

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