The Tłı̨chǫ all-season road to Whatì is nearing completion, with the GNWT calling the project a major success story.

The all-season road, that will connect Whatì to Highway 3 west of Behchokǫ̀, is more than 70 percent complete, according to the GNWT.

That includes design work, 97 kilometres of right-of-way clearing, 85 kilometres of embankment construction, and the installation of 48 bridge decks.

Greg Hanna, a Department of Infrastructure spokesperson, said the progress was “pretty remarkable in spite of Covid-19.”

Ziaur Rahman, the project manager said the outbreak of COVID-19 lined up with a scheduled pause in production that had existed before the pandemic. So when the project was paused for six weeks, it didn’t cause delays to the project. It also allowed for the GNWT to create a “robust” COVID-19 mitigation plan.

After construction is completed, a road safety audit will be conducted. Once that is done, the road will be open to the public in fall 2021.

 

Health concerns

A majority of the workers on the project, 155 out of 264, were workers from the south. 

The COVID-19 plan included assigning individual rooms, having scheduled access to the kitchen and wearing masks when a worker couldn’t stand two metres apart, all overseen by a COVID-19 coordinator.

When asked about concerns from some workers on the project that COVID-19 regulations weren’t being followed, Hanna said worker’s safety and the health and safety of those in the region had been a priority throughout.

The remaining workers were from the Tłı̨chǫ region or the NWT more broadly. More than 9,000 hours of work training were completed, allowing production to stay on schedule after the six-week break, said Rahman, as many of the local workers had completed training.

Photo supplied by GNWT.

There were also concerns raised during the press conference about the road increasing the ease with which drugs and alcohol can enter Whatì. 

Alcohol is prohibited in Whatì — a small community with a population of around 502. 

Locals are concerned the road would make it easier for people to bring large amounts of alcohol and drugs into the community. RCMP recently uncovered a stash of alcohol which was set to be brought into the community.

But Hanna said the issue had been considered in an environmental risk assessment, with the Department of Health and Social Services “particularly involved” in the process.