As much of Robert Service Way remains closed to commuter traffic, the City of Whitehorse is opening the Rotary Centennial Bridge on the Millennium Trail to those who commute by active transportation.
Mayor Laura Cabott told reporters at a May 6 press conference that while officials had been hoping to let the public know the city would begin moving debris this weekend from the April 30 landslide that shut down much of the road, the site remains a “dangerous and active site”, thus debris can’t be removed and the road will remain closed to commuter traffic.
The April 30 slide saw an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 cubic metres of debris slide from the escarpment, across Robert Service Way, and onto Yukon River ice. The situation closed the road and Millennium trail between the roundabout at Fourth Avenue and Miles Canyon Road near the Yukon Energy Corporation with efforts underway to assess the area, also effectively shutting off access to the bridge. A portion of the airport trail is also closed.
Cabott said assessment work has shown there continues to be movement of material coming down about four centimetres and new tension cracks are showing up in the escarpment. There is also continued water seepage.
“So we aren’t going to be able to get in there to move the debris and certainly (we’re) not able to get in there to open it up,” she said. “As far as next steps (go), the road will continue to be blocked. We’re going to add though, a new option for commuters.”
The barriers will be moved closer to the slide area so that those wanting to come into town via the Rotary Centennial Bridge, on the Millennium trail near the Yukon Energy site, will be able to do so. Cabott said those using the bridge will not be able to continue on the Millinnium Trail for their entire commute to downtown, but will be able to access Riverdale to get into the downtown.
As Tracy Allen, the city’s director of operations, explained, when the road was originally closed off (with the exception of those accessing Yukon Energy or Skookum Asphalt), officials wanted to ensure traffic was directed down Two Mile Hill. With travel patterns now adjusted, Allen said the city is comfortable moving the barricades a little to allow access to the Rotary Centennial Bridge.
Security will remain on site at both ends of the barricades.
The city is working with Fisheries and Oceans to look at the best way of removing debris – which includes large trees and a light standard among other material – from the river when it has been deemed safe to do so.
The cause of the slide has been determined to be from saturated soils, given the record precipitation levels this winter.
While Cabott acknowledged she’s not a climate change expert, she said she believes the landslide is tied to climate change.
“The City of Whitehorse is not immune to climate change,” she said, highlighting flood, fire and erosion risks in the city.
Costs of dealing directly with the landslide are not yet known, but Cabott said the city is is a strong financial situation with $55 million in reserves. If it needs to dip into reserves, it will, but Cabott also said there are federal funds and programs that may be looked at.
The city will be looking at how to prevent such landslides in the future. Cabott said snow and water management may be part of that along with other work.
“And with that will be budget implications, but is just way to early (to know what those will be) at this stage,” she said. “But obviously, the City of Whitehorse is going to have to come up with a plan and the budget implications with that.”
The city also has efforts underway to assess the entire escarpment throughout the downtown.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org