Planned Alaska Highway upgrades get mixed response

Yukoners are ambivalent about the government's proposed upgrades to the Whitehorse corridor of the Alaska Highway, according to a new report.

Yukoners are ambivalent about the government’s proposed upgrades to the Whitehorse corridor of the Alaska Highway, according to a new report.

The report analyzed public feedback on the $200-million plan to improve a 40-kilometre stretch of the highway between the turnoff to Carcross south of Whitehorse and the turnoff to Dawson north of the city.

Proposed upgrades include widening the highway to four lanes along some stretches, adding passing lanes and frontage roads, improving intersections and upgrading multi-use trails.

Survey results found that 45 per cent of respondents agreed that the proposed plan balances local and regional transportation needs and will benefit Whitehorse and the Yukon, while 39 per cent disagreed.

But just 40 per cent of respondents agreed that the plan addresses their safety concerns, while 39 per cent disagreed.

Forty per cent of respondents believed the plan addresses their concerns about congestion and travel time, while another 40 per cent disagreed.

And 41 per cent of respondents felt the plan fails to balance community, environmental and economic concerns, while just 36 per cent felt that the plan is balanced.

The report also found that a number of people had questions about “whether the $200 million investment in highway improvements was justified… and whether public investment should be directed elsewhere in the community.” Several people also had questions about cyclist and pedestrian safety and impacts on local businesses.

The document also mentions a petition signed by 93 residents of Takhini, Valleyview and the Prospector Trailer Park that listed concerns about an increase in dangerous pedestrian crossings and air and noise pollution.

In the legislative assembly on Monday, NDP MLA Lois Moorcroft asked what the government will do to respond to concerns from the public.

“There isn’t a consensus that these changes are necessary or even balanced, and that’s something that the government should be striving for,” she said.

In response, Highways and Public Works Minister Scott Kent said no roadwork will be undertaken “until we have re-prioritized the plan and engaged further with some stakeholders.”

He said he will ask the department to identify any specific safety concerns along the Whitehorse corridor before making a longer-term plan. But he added that the improvements were never intended to happen all at once.

“This was always contemplated to be a very long-term effort – over 35 to 40 years,” he said.

The plan, prepared by consultants CH2M Hill, divided the Whitehorse corridor into 10 sections. Three of those sections, between Robert Service Way and Two Mile Hill Road, were slated for immediate upgrades at an estimated cost of $52 million. The consultants recommended completing the other upgrades as population grows, with the section from Two Mile Hill Road to Crestview to be completed before the city hits 35,000 residents. Longer-term improvements, south of Robert Service Way and north of Crestview, were to be completed by the time the city reached 47,000.

But the report found that “there is a general feeling that the population projections… are optimistic, and therefore the medium and longer-term improvements may not be needed until much later.”

However, one thing most respondents did agree on was that a proposed multi-use trail would benefit commuters and recreational users.

The report was based on 488 survey responses.

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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