Have your pavement, and keep your heritage, too

Dawson City's Front Street isn't a chip-sealed road anymore, but thanks to $660,000 worth of European coloured pavement, it will still look like chip seal.

Dawson City’s Front Street isn’t a chip-sealed road anymore, but thanks to $660,000 worth of European coloured pavement, it will still look like chip seal.

The French-manufactured asphalt, called Bituclair, doesn’t have black pigmentation.

So, the honey-coloured paving material can be dyed almost any colour.

Any colour of road, be it blue, red or chip-seal is now within reach.

The Yukon government first announced the $3.5-million plan to pave Front Street in March.

For years, Front Street had been chip-sealed – a road-building technique similar to gluing gravel to the road surface.

Chip-seal is usually reserved for low-volume roads, not high-traffic main streets.

Daily poundings by RVs and tour buses quickly rendered Front Street a potholed mess.

Paving the street was a key election promise of Dawson MLA Steve Nordick in the 2006 election.

Still, some Dawsonites responded with resistance to the paving plan, arguing that asphalt would jeopardize the city’s chances at being named a UNESCO world heritage site.

The road may be bumpy and treacherous – but the roughness is all part of what draws tourists to Dawson in the first place, they argued.

But since the road is technically an extension of the Klondike Highway, city officials had no power over the decision.

Bituclair is the compromise.

“The look of the lighter surface is … in keeping with Dawson City’s heritage theme,” said Highways and Public Works Minister Archie Lang in a Thursday release.

Lighter-coloured pavement also means less solar absorption, sort of like gardening in a white, versus a black, T-shirt.

And less sun means less heat, which is good news for Dawson permafrost.

“Dawson’s heritage theme calls for unpaved roads, not light-coloured asphalt,” wrote Dawson Mayor John Steins on his blog yesterday.

At the moment, workers are busy laying down a layer of common black asphalt.

When that’s dry, they’ll slather on the Bituclair.

The Front Street project signals the first North American use of Bituclair.

Across France, the material is already being used on bike trails and in rural areas, and splashed on country lanes to give them a charming earth-tone quality.

Manufactured in a factory outside of Paris, the Yukon’s order of Bituclair was first shipped by freighter to Vancouver.

From there, it was trucked up to Dawson along more than 3,000 kilometres of drab, Canadian-made highway.

With a completion date of September 9, it’s only a week until the wheels and shocks of Dawson vehicles will finally be able to get a feel of the new European-developed road.

Meanwhile, the UNESCO decision remains pending.

“No one can argue against a driving surface that feels like you’re gliding on air, but at what cost?” wrote Steins.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com