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Whitehorse council hears about next steps on Robert Service Way landslide fix

Hiring an engineer to assess the scope of a permanent solution for landslides is next on the agenda
A drone photo of one of the landslides that came down the Whitehorse escarpment onto Robert Service Way. (Courtesy/City of Whitehorse)

The City of Whitehorse is looking at starting to chip in for the portion of a permanent fix to the slope stability issues along Robert Service Way not covered by the federal government grant it received. City councillors also heard about funding the next steps towards a design for the project at a recent meeting. 

The next phase of project planning and design was sketched out for city councillors in a staff report presented by city director of engineering Taylor Eshpeter at the city’s July 2 standing committees meeting.

The report notes significant expenditures, upwards of $2.5 million, have been made on monitoring and response to landslides from the escarpment overlooking Robert Service way already. 

The city got disaster mitigation adaptation funding worth $45 million from the federal. This accounts for about 75 per cent of the overall project costs, but it is dependent on the city funding the remainder in some way.

“Administration is currently working to identify possible funding sources for the remaining 25 per cent or about $15 million to be able to advance the full project,” Eshpeter said. 

He noted that a permanent solution is required to mitigate safety risks, keep the road below the escarpment open and limit erosion impacts on the Yukon River. 

“Preliminary engineering work completed in 2023 identified the most feasible long-term solution as a combination of slow preshaping and also realigning the roadway and Millennium Trail, along with infrastructure to manage groundwater seepage,” Eshpeter said. 

He noted that design is expected to be complex and to require time for significant public consultation and permitting. For this reason, administration recommends hiring an engineer to begin preliminary work as soon as possible. The work outlined under the expenditure would mainly be defining the project scope, beginning to look into permitting and drafting procurement documents for the rest of the design work. 

“For the size of project, the amount of resources and efforts required to project manage this project is going to be quite significant. We don't have the resources in house, so the owner's engineer would be doing the project management for this project,” Eshpeter said. 

Eshpeter presented the options to councillors, either amending the city’s 2024-2027 capital expenditure program to put $250,000 to the first phase of the design work or referring the matter back to administration for further study. 

Eshpeter said that detailed design work of the permanent solution is not included in this expenditure and is expected to cost another $3.5 million. 

“Once the remaining funding shortfall is secured, the city can sign the contribution agreement with the federal government, and 75 per cent of all the costs incurred as of May 1, 2024, will be reimbursed,” he said.

Coun. Kirk Cameron asked what is known about what the permanent fix will look like and whether it would resemble conceptual designs advanced last year. The early plans presented last summer called for the movement of Robert Service Way further from the foot of the escarpment and the extension of a sheet-pile wall started in 2022 as well as slope-stabilization efforts.

Eshpeter clarified that earlier design work was conceptual and used for applying for the federal funding. Later designs will still be based on the preliminary design the city identified. Design hasn’t progressed past the conceptual.

City infrastructure director Tracy Allen added that the city still needs to come up with the $15 million to get through detailed design for the permanent solution. 

Cameron asked whether the $60 million total project estimate would be enough or if there would be possible cost overruns. Allen replied that information on cost will be fleshed out through the design process. 

Coun. Mellisa Murray asked about timelines, whether a funding source had been identified for the outstanding 25 per cent of the project cost and how soon the city needs to come up with that money to secure the federal funding.

Allen replied that the city is able to start incurring costs related to the project as of May 1, the day the federal funding was announced.

Next steps will be decided on at a future meeting. 

Contact Jim Elliot at

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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