Winter roads melting too soon

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As much of the territory experiences unseasonably warm weather, the Mackenzie Valley Winter Road has been closed, announced the Department of Infrastructure in a tweet this morning.

The winter road serves the communities of of Tulita, Wrigley, Deline, Norman Wells, Colville Lake and Fort Good Hope.

Daytime traffic on the entire Tlicho, Whati and Wekweeti winter road systems has been closed, announced the department. They will be open to night travel from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. but weight restrictions have been imposed.

The Sambaa K’e winter road is also closed for night travel only, past 10 p.m.

The Wekweeti roads can only handle vehicles of up to 10,000 kilograms and the Whati roads can handle up to 36,000 kilograms with a speed limit at 14 kilometres per hour for a 1 kilometre length on Marian Lake. The Tlicho and Gameti roadways can handle vehicles of up to 15,000 kilograms.

News/North asked to speak to officials at the Department of Infrastructure about the effects this recent spate of extremely warm weather is having on winter roads in the territory but Kelley Ryder, manager of public affairs and communications with the department, said they were too “swamped” right now to do any interviews. She refers News/North to the department’s Twitter page.

The forecast daytime high for Tulita today was 4 C. In Norman wells a high of 3 C was predicted and in Fort Liard temperatures were expected to rise to 11 C.

The territory’s ice roads have been melting earlier, drastically reducing the window of time isolated residents rely on to restock vital supplies. The average closing date for many winter roads is in mid-April, according to the government’s website.

The department of infrastructure is reminding the public that driving on a closed seasonal road carries a penalty of $863.

Tibbit to Contwoyto

The Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter ice road has also experienced shut downs due to the weather.

Ron Near, director of the Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road, says the winter highway is experience day time closures to prevent damages to portages.

“There have been a lot of challenges in the last few days,” Near said. “So we’ve stopped daytime travel in the past two days and limiting night time travel.”

“We’ve had some pretty extraordinary temps for this time of year, making it more difficult.”

With cooler temperatures approaching, Near said they will be sending 70 loaded trucks North in three days on the night of March 20, the first loaded trucks sent in three days.

These shutdowns have not delayed the winter road project at all though.

“We were 84 per cent done before the weather hit. We’ll finish the program and get all the forecast freight into the site, on time.”

The damage due to the warmer weather is on the portages themselves.

“Portages are made of predominately ice cover,” Near said.

“Once the heat and sun hits and they start to melt there is a lot of running water and when you put weight on that, they soften up and deteriorate.”

“We have to know when to stop traffic because if we let rutting happen and it reaches the surface, it causes damage to the environment. So it’s a fine balancing act, but we’ve gotten pretty good at it.”

The ideal temperature for portages to be maintained is between -5 C and -8 C, which this weekend’s projected temperatures falls into.

Near said the Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road project should be wrapped up by the end of this weekend.

The 600-kilometre stretch of winter road is a vital piece of infrastructure for delivering supplier to Northern diamond mines.

The road are not the only thing feeling the heat as the Snowking Winter Festival has shut down daytime activities and the Hay River pond hockey tournament was also cancelled.

— with files from Ezra Black

 

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