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dismissing the gods

There are serious problems on the Alaska Highway north of Haines Junction.While much improved from the Alaska Highway of old, the road is an…

There are serious problems on the Alaska Highway north of Haines Junction.

While much improved from the Alaska Highway of old, the road is an adventure worthy of those bumper stickers you find in the lodges.

Driving it, you’ve got to keep one eye out for front-end battering potholes and stomach-twisting frost heaves. It’s no place for fatigued drivers.

Heck, it’s barely drivable after a six-pack of Red Bull.

The question, of course, is why is that?

Highways Minister Archie Lang blames the gods.

“It is Mother Nature, Mr. Speaker,” Lang said in the legislature last week.

“It’s got nothing to do with this government or this minister. It’s got to do with Mother Nature, and Mother Nature is the reason that the road is in the condition it’s in.”

Which makes one wonder why we have a Highways department.

But we do have such a department.

And in the last four years, it has spent $100 million repairing the North Alaska Highway.

That money was entrusted to the Yukon from Washington, DC, as part of the Shakwak Project.

The US funds the project because the Yukon portion of the Alaska Highway is the sole road access to Alaska.

It has been a pretty consistent grant, and has provided a good living to a couple of Yukon road construction firms.

Using a napkin estimate, close to $300 million has been spent on the Yukon portion of the road over the last 10 years.

The distance from Haines Junction to Beaver Creek is 298 kilometres.

That means the Yukon government has been given enough money to spend $1 million per kilometre improving the highway since 1998.

Lang is right about one thing — the road is a godawful mess.

And, while Mother Nature’s frost heaves are contributing to maintenance problems, the 21st century has better ways of pinning down why hundreds of millions spent on highway work doesn’t result in a better road surface.

Specifically, we have auditors.

“There is no requirement for managers to evaluate contractor performance and there is little or no monitoring of any contracting activities in departments,” wrote the government’s audit services branch in a damning 43-page report on the territory’s shoddy contracting practices.

The department has a minister. The minister is supposed to ensure that contracting rules are clear, and are followed. And that the government received value for the work it contracted.

Too often, that is not the case, according to the government’s own auditors.

That audit undermines Lang’s remarks the problem has nothing to do with the department or its minister.

It’s time the government tightens up its oversight of government contracts.

We suspect that, alone, would greatly improve the road to Alaska.