Patchy gravel work on Dempster doesn’t mollify truckers

Inuvik route truckers are thankful for recent repair work on the shattered Dempster Highway, but they maintain that much more needs to be done.

Inuvik route truckers are thankful for recent repair work on the shattered Dempster Highway, but they maintain that much more needs to be done.

“The road is a lot better right now than what it was (in late July),” said Jim Sherburne, who regularly trucks the Dempster route to Inuvik.

“But as far as I can see, it’s just a Band-Aid,” he said.

A crew of gravel haulers was dispatched to the highway starting July 20, but were stopped “two days short” because the government “ran out of money,” said Lorne Mulrich, president of Cee & Cee Dirt and Gravel, who was contracted for the work.

As a result, drivers on the Dempster can see a number of piles of unused “crush” (crushed gravel) lying adjacent to the highway.

“It’s like (the crush piles) are sticking their tongue out at you every time you drive past,” said Ray Hadley, a trucker with MATCO transportation.

Even if completed, it wouldn’t have been enough, said Mulrich.

“What they need up there is another three piles or four piles (of gravel) and another month’s hauling — but they just didn’t do that,” he said.

The Yukon currently falls far behind the Northwest Territories in terms of funding for the Dempster Highway.

The 2008-2009 Yukon maintenance budget for the Dempster Highway is pegged at $5.08 million — roughly $11,000 per kilometre.

The current maintenance budget for the NWT side of the Dempster stands at $3.7 million — roughly $13,600 per kilometre.

Additionally, the NWT invests at least $4.5 million per year to reconstruct the surface and sub surface of their highway — 50 per cent of which is funded by federal contributions, said Gurdev Jagpal, NWT regional highway superintendent.

The reconstruction funding permits the NWT to rebuild about five to 10 kilometres of road per year, said Jagpal.

“We don’t get (federal) funding for our Dempster Highway,” said Jennifer Magnuson, spokesperson for the Yukon’s Highways and Public Works.

Truckers exasperated at the condition on the Yukon side of the Dempster often point to the NWT side as a model of good highway maintenance.

“On the NWT side, every trip you can see at least one or two graders wherever — wherever they’re needed they go out and grade the road,” said Hadley.

“On the Yukon side … when they think the road’s good enough, the (graders) all disappear and you won’t see them again for quite a while,” he said.

When graders hit the highway in force, the effect can be rejuvenating.

“They need to work their graders, they need some manpower up there,” said Mulrich.

“When we went up, it took us, like, nine hours of rough riding from the Dempster Corner up to Eagle Plains.”

On the return trip, Mulrich found that, as a result of “some whining” the road had been worked by seven graders — shortening the trip to only four and a half hours.

But serious reconstruction still needs to be done, say truckers.

“What I’m worried about is (the government saying,) ‘Yeah, we’ll fix these roads up — a little patch here, a little patch there, keep these guys quiet,’” said Sherburne.

“And the next thing you know the roads are going to go the same way,” he said.

Hadley described large parts of the highway as being just “a pile of rocks.”

“I drive a truck and when it becomes time to do some work on my truck, ‘Let’s get it fixed, let’s get it fixed the right way,’” said Sherburne.

“What’s it going to cost me? I’m not really too worried about how much it’s going to cost me because I’ve got to fix it and it’s got to be safe.

“And it’s the same thing with this road,” he said.