An infrastructure project in the Northwest Territories, with a price tag of about $400 million, is moving along on budget and ahead of schedule.
About 70 per cent of the project to build a 97-kilometre all-season gravel road connecting Highway 3 to Whati, N.W.T. is now complete, said project manager Ziaur Rahman in a media briefing Thursday.
The two-lane road is set to open in the fall of 2021, a full year ahead of schedule and despite interruptions due to COVID-19.
Whati Chief Alfonz Nitsiza said good weather last summer likely played a part.
"When they started last year they were just gonna set up a camp, but they wanted to start the road construction," Nitsiza said. "The weather held up right up to November, so they did a lot last year."
Nitsiza said he got a tour last week and found the road in much better condition than the one from Yellowknife to Behchoko, N.W.T.
"It's on high ground," he said. "It's like you're driving from Edzo to Fort Providence."
It's estimated it will cost $411 million to build and operate the road for 25 years.
In the briefing, staff reported that the road has employed 264 workers, 109 (or 41 per cent) of whom are Tłı̨chǫ or N.W.T. residents.
That's well within the target set in 2019 of 35 per cent northern labour during the construction phase. That percentage is supposed to rise to 55 per cent during the first five years of road operation, rising to 75 per cent by the end of the contract.
Nitsiza said he's been impressed with the jobs and training opportunities he's seen so far.
North Star Infrastructure — which is made up of Kiewit Canada Development Corp. and the Tłı̨chǫ government — is the main contractor.
"It's partnership that makes major projects like this happen in a good way," Nitsiza said.
The road will end about 13 kilometres outside of Whati, at the turnoff to the Whati falls, which is reached by a community access road.
Nitsiza said that access road is not in great shape. He said the community is now in negotiations with the territorial government to make improvements, hopefully at the same time as construction is completed on the all-season road.
"Maybe one day [we'll] have a campsite there or stuff like that," Nitsiza said. "It's really beautiful there."