Still-closed winter road to Wekweeti has community frustrated, says chief

The winter road to Wekweeti, Northwest Territories, hasn't opened yet and Chief Charlie Football says the community is tired of waiting.

The road is expected to open Wednesday, but temperatures are rising fast and every day the road isn't open is another day residents can't travel by car or truck.

Football says that has residents upset.

"This is a late, late, late winter road," he said.

The eight-year average opening of the road has been March 3, with the average closing being April 13, according to numbers from the territory's Department of Infrastructure.

'The cost of living is going to be a killer'

Football worries the late opening will affect the cost of living in Wekweeti. A late start means the community of just over 130 must rely more heavily on air transport, which adds to the cost of goods brought in town. He says a round trip to Yellowknife in a truck for less expensive goods and groceries costs roughly $160 in gas.

"If there's no winter road like that, the cost of living is going to be a killer," he said.

Football said he didn't know why the road wasn't open yet.

The section of road that joins Wekweeti with the Tlicho winter road system is more than 200 kilometres long.

Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC

Warm weather and equipment trouble affected the opening dates this year, according to Michael Conway, the regional superintendent for the N.W.T. Department of Infrastructure.

However, Conway said that a planned all-season Tlicho road to the community of Whati could solve this bottleneck in winter road construction.

"Once the Tlicho all-season road is in place and we don't have to construct winter roads across Marian Lake, I think that the construction season will be quicker and the actual season that the road is open for … will be considerably longer than it is at this time," he said.

Conway said his department is looking to start construction on the all-season road in the fall, and that it could be finished in two or three years.

"We should be able to start construction [for the road to Wekweeti] much earlier once the all-season road is in," he said.

Department keeping an eye on winter roads

In recent days, communities in the territory's North Slave region have seen temperatures rise well above zero. The climbing temperatures prompted the Department of Infrastructure to recently restrict road use of the Mackenzie Valley and Tlicho winter roads to night travel only.

 

Conway says his department is keeping an eye on the roads, including the ice road to Wekweeti, to keep them open as long as possible, but it all depends on the weather. 

Football said he plans to meet with Infrastructure Minister Wally Schumann to consider other options for a winter road to be built to his community as early as January.

"If they can't do it, then I'm going to do it myself," he said.