A transport truck drives down the Alaska Highway in November 2016. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Liberals back out of $200M Alaska Highway plan

Government says it still plans to address safety concerns at various intersections

The minister of highways and public works says his department is walking away from a $200 million plan to expand a 40-kilometre stretch of the Alaska Highway.

Minister Richard Mostyn said the Liberals didn’t hear a lot of public support for the project during the last election and so have decided to cancel it.

“There wasn’t a lot of public buy-in about what this project was. There wasn’t a lot of support for a $200 million twinning project through the middle of town,” he said.

“It was an extraordinary amount of money, a lot of work and people were concerned about speeds.”

The project, which would have twinned portions of the Alaska Highway between the South Klondike Highway and the North Klondike Highway, began under the former Yukon Party government and was met with resistance from some businesses and members of the community.

“Overall, respondents did not agree that the improvements reflect a balance between community, environmental, and economic considerations: 36 per cent agree or strongly agree, while 41 per cent disagree or strongly disagree,” according to a summary of the government’s consultation period in 2015.

Work was slated to be done in stages as the territory’s population grew. About $52 million worth of short term projects would have been completed in five years. Another $50 million worth of work was to take place by 2031 and the last $100 million for long term projects would have come after that.

Mostyn said there are parts of the highway that do need to be improved. The government has already committed $5 million to improve the intersection with the South Klondike Highway this year. About the same amount will be spent at the North Klondike Highway intersection next year, he said.

Once work moves closer to Whitehorse things get more complicated he said.

“The alignment of infrastructure and municipal services, lighting … that’s going to require a lot of talk and a lot of consensus building amongst the citizens of Whitehorse and the City of Whitehorse about what this means to them.”

Road work near the Pioneer RV Park that was planned before the Liberals came into office has gone ahead.

He said the government intends to do more consultations on top of what the Yukon Party did when it was planning the project.

Mostyn didn’t say what kind of timelines his government was working with or how much it expects to spend.

He said the department has ranked intersections that are considered safety concerns. Mostyn’s department did not provide that list in time for today’s deadline.

Along with the work at both ends of the stretch of highway, the minister said the intersection with Robert Service Way is a problem area that is going to need attention “soon.”

“We saw a terrible tragedy there a couple of years ago. We want to try and make that intersection a lot safer,” he said.

“Then we’ve got areas like Hillcrest and going through that whole very narrow corridor with a lot of industrial activity happening there…. That’s going to require some attention too.”

For his part, Yukon Party MLA and former highways minister Scott Kent, said his government was always planning on having more conversations with businesses that were concerned about the original plan. Those didn’t happen before the last election, he said.

The government promised no road work would happen until the plan was “reprioritized,” unless there were safety concerns, he said.

“As far as just doing work deemed necessary for safety concerns, that’s where we were a couple of years ago and it sounds like that’s where they’re at now too.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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