The Alaska Highway north of Burwash Landing in the Yukon on March 27. This stretch of highway is part of the U.S./Canada Shakwak project and may receive some funding from the Americans if a transportation bill passes. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

After years, Shakwak has a place in U.S. transportation bill

‘It’s been ignored for 10 years. This can’t be ignored anymore’

A U.S. transportation bill includes the Shakwak highway project, which could potentially bring in new cash for it — a first in years.

“Provided it passes as is, and we’re very hopeful it will, that will then allow funding to be allocated to Shakwak,” Yukon’s Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mosytn said, pointing out that the last time money was included in a bill was in 2009.

“We don’t know how much funding, but as long as there’s a line item in that bill, that’s a huge step towards getting the money necessary to fund that stretch of road to America’s rigorous standards.”

A spokesperson with Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan’s office didn’t immediately return requests for comment. Sullivan, a member of the Environment and Public Works committee, helped with the bill, which could yield $3.2 billon over five years for the state.

The bill was introduced on July 29. It has yet to pass congress and, by extension, receive the signature of President Donald Trump. It could take upwards of one year to make it through these hoops.

Marc Luiken, commissioner of the department of transportation and public facilities, previously told this newspaper that funds for Shakwak were depleted in 2015, adding that the Obama administration elected to not refinance it.

The Shakwak Agreement was signed by the governments of Canada and United States in 1977.

It lays out responsibilities for 523 kilometres of road — the Canadian portion of the Haines Road from Haines, Alaska, to Haines Junction and the northern portion of the Alaska Highway from Haines Junction to the Alaska Border.

Yukon Party MLA Wade Istchenko, whose riding is Kluane, said he’s encouraged that Democrats and Republicans are working together on this file.

“It’s promising news because when you have both parties driving in the same direction, basically with a common goal, we’re most likely to get it done. This portion of highway is very important for my constituents. It’s badly needed money and I sure hope it passes.”

Istchenko took aim at Mostyn, saying that $2.5 million had been cut from this year’s budget for the Canadian portion of the highway.

“You have to keep your maintenance up on your highway or it will deteriorate.”

But it goes beyond the Yukon Liberals. Istchenko wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to pony up.

“You can’t just sit on your hands and wait for the Americans to do everything during the time there isn’t money there,” he said.

“I just hope whoever forms a government in October takes this really, really seriously and does become concerned.”

It’s unclear how much money is needed to upgrade the Canadian portion. Mostyn suspects roughly $350 million.

“We’ve always committed to maintaining the safety of the road and maintaining it to a standard that befits the population we have living up there. We don’t have the resources,” he said.

“It’s been ignored for 10 years. This can’t be ignored anymore.”

On that note, Mostyn said members of the Yukon government, including himself, have been working with U.S. counterparts, stressing the importance of reinstating funding for the project.

“The Yukon government supported the Alaskan government in July of 2019 to get a build fund through, which would be a stopgap measure until the next transportation act was passed,” he said.

Mostyn said that legislators in the Pacific Northwest support securing funding for the project.

“Temperate celebration, I guess you could call it,” he said, referring to the inclusion of Shakwak in the bill. “We’ve got a ways to go yet.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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