Increasingly poor road conditions on the Dempster Highway are prompting frustrated truckers to consider a petition demanding its urgent repair.
The strategy has worked before.
In 2001, trucker Damen Anderson collected more than 1,000 signatures calling for the immediate repair of the then-neglected highway.
Truckers, tourists and other drivers were more than happy to add their names to Anderson’s list of supporters.
“A couple of guys, they had rented a tow-behind (RV), and they actually blew the axle right off,” said Anderson.
Needless to say, the two readily signed.
Just months after the petition was submitted, new funding launched redemptive fleets of graders and gravel trucks to the shattered highway.
“They started crushing real gravel, instead of just scraping the crap out of the ditch and putting it on top,” said Anderson.
Critical support for the repairs came from Premier Dennis Fentie, who was a former trucker, he added.
The work six years ago helped, but years of neglect have once again led the Dempster back into potholed oblivion.
“It was good for probably four years, and then it was pretty bad last year, and now this year … I’m hearing there’s lots of damage to vehicles,” said Anderson.
“We had a lease operator drive up and he broke his steering springs — steering springs are almost impossible to break.”
Atlin resident Archie Knill recently took an RV up to Inuvik for the Great Northern Arts Festival.
“Most of the time it was just potholes and cobblestone — it was incredible,” said Knill.
“(The RV) was vibrating like a jackhammer most of the time,” he said.
The conditions are causing many truck drivers to demand higher rates or refuse the Dempster route altogether.
“It’s so bad that I’m getting drivers coming in who want more money because they’re doing more repairs,” said Dale Mullen, the Whitehorse freight division manager at MATCO transportation systems.
“And then of course, what happens? We have to increase the rates, and then our customers in Inuvik have to pass it on to their customers,” he said.
And current maintenance work doesn’t seem to be doing the trick.
“They’re spreading gravel right now, but it’s not enough and they’re putting it on too thin,” said longtime Dempster trucker Jim Sherburne.
“As soon as the traffic goes over, it blows off the layer that they put on, and that’s it for the year; they don’t grade it again,” he said.
The Department of Highways and Public Works maintains that the Dempster’s deteriorating road conditions are not due to monetary constraints.
“It’s not a budget issue, the Dempster is getting more money than it got last year, said Jennifer Magnuson, communications co-ordinator for the department.
“The main issue on the Dempster and the reason that it is the way it is, is weather.
“Weather has just been abnormal this year — it’s inevitable that there’s going to be potholes and some washboard with this much rain.”
“Our people are out there working day and night and have literally exhausted themselves — so we can’t treat day to day maintenance in the same manner,” said Magnuson.
Some sections can’t be graded because there’s “nothing there to grade,” she said.
For truckers, frustration continues to mount as escalating repair expenses erode their bottom line.
“If you’re constantly rattling your hood off and breaking down and spending all your time fixing your truck between trips and making fewer trips because you have to travel slower – you might as well stay on the pavement and head south,” said Mullen.
“I’m ready to park my truck — I don’t wanna do this no more,” said Sherburne — who recently replaced the entire suspension on his rig.
“That’s my livelihood, and to wreck my truck, I might as well shoot myself in the head.”