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Robert Service Way cleanup expected to start next week

Escarpment areas continue to be closed off as ground movement continues
Fences such as this one line a number of areas along the escarpment as it continues to see sloughing, tension cracks and movement. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

Work to reopen Robert Service Way is expected to begin next week as the city continues to monitor and has fenced off more areas near the base of the escarpment downtown.

During a May 19 update about the escarpment situation, Tracy Allen, the City of Whitehorse’s director of operations, outlined plans for crews to begin cleanup and installation of a sheet pile wall, estimating the clean up to take about a day and the installation of the wall to be another week to 10 days.

“And then we will be looking at reopening Robert Service Way,” she said. “It may be opened at first with the assistance of traffic (officers) during rush hour, for example, just to ensure we don’t have bumper-to-bumper cars in the area, just to get us through to the end of June.”

She stressed the situation is continually being evaluated and reassessed as conditions change.

The road was closed April 30 after a landslide sent debris down the escarpment, across the roadway and onto Yukon River ice. The slide took out a light standard among other debris in its path. The road has remained shut as movement and tension cracks in the escarpment have continued to appear, though the plan for a sheet pile wall is aimed at stabilizing the area so the road can reopen.

Allen said when the debris is cleaned up, the soil will be taken to the city’s landfill, making room for the materials to build the sheet pile wall.

She noted her appreciation for the patience of commuters impacted by the road closure, which has caused significant congestion on Two Mile Hill as residents have altered their routes. The city has eliminated transit fares until July 1 in an effort to encourage people to use transit in order to ease traffic congestion.

While Allen acknowledged it is taking time for the city to get the area cleaned up, she explained she’s not comfortable sending city crews into an active area that may not be safe.

Mud seeps down from the escarpment into an area at Fifth Avenue and Rogers Street. A number of areas along the base of the escarpment have been closed off as the escarpment continues to shift. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Mud seeps down from the escarpment into an area at Fifth Avenue and Rogers Street. A number of areas along the base of the escarpment have been closed off as the escarpment continues to shift. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

The escarpment base downtown

As plans continue for the reopening of Robert Service Way, the city has also put in place more fencing along much of the base of the escarpment through downtown, given the continued movement and sloughing in parts of the clay cliffs.

“Now we’re seeing more activity further along the escarpment,” Mayor Laura Cabott told reporters, citing soil movements that range from 60 millimetres to 135 millimetres, seeping groundwater, sloughing and new and existing tension cracks.

“Those existing tension cracks are now growing in length and moving to a point where they’re about to rupture,” she said. “And then more slides occur.”

At times it appears some sections of the cliffs are drying up only to have that change within 24 hours with more sloughing and sliding, mud and water coming down the escarpment.

Geotechnical experts are continuing to measure movement and gather information to assess the ever-changing situation.

While the Black Street stairs have remained open and are currently deemed safe, areas along the east airport trail have been closed from Taylor Street to Hanson Street and in the Strickland Street area. Along with that, three area parks along the escarpment have been fenced off as well.

“Our technical experts say that we really probably have not seen the worst of the situation here, that it will continue to be active, that there will continue to be sloughing,” Cabott said. “We’ll probably see some more activity along the slope. So we will leave the fences up, the barriers up, continue to monitor it and if we need to put up more fencing then we will do that.”

A larger assessment of the entire escarpment is set to be done this year, with the last such study done in 2002.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Stephanie Waddell

About the Author: Stephanie Waddell

I joined Black Press in 2019 as a reporter for the Yukon News, becoming editor in February 2023.
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