As plans move forward for an extension to Range Road and other work along the Alaska Highway, the federal government has announced funding for the initiative.
The announcement came during a press conference Friday at the Yukon Transportation Museum with Bernadette Jordan, the federal Rural Economic Development minister.
Jordan said Ottawa will put in $13.2 million for work planned for areas along the Alaska Highway in Whitehorse over the next two years.
The Yukon government is contributing $4.4 million to the work through its Small Communities Fund.
Specifically, this year’s efforts will see the planned 350-metre extension to the south side of Range Road to a new intersection with the highway. That will include traffic lights and the closure of the current intersection at Sumanik Drive. A new right-in, right-out access will be built.
Then in 2020, work will be done in the area of the Hillcrest neighbourhood, with consultation underway to plan for those improvements.
“These important projects will improve safety for the residents of Whitehorse and communities across Yukon who use the Alaska Highway,” Jordan said.
“Improved travel and transportation of goods across the region will benefit the local economy and improve the quality of life for residents in nearby communities.”
As it was highlighted by Jordan, Yukon MP Larry Bagnell and Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn, the highway is extremely important.
It’s a major artery and a community road that gets a number of residents to work, home, school and such every day, the media were told.
“It ties us together,” Mostyn said. “So it’s vital to the territory.”
The estimated $4.4 million worth of work to Range Road comes in light of changes underway to the area.
“There’s the new city building, we’re getting commercial development along the highway,” Mostyn said.
“There’s talk of a quarry (see last Wednesday’s Star), so it’s really a dangerous, very constricted, heavily trafficked region.”
Whitehorse Toyota moved to its Range Road location from downtown last year, and the city’s operations building is currently under construction.
A trail will be built to connect the southern end of Range Road with the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport and Black Street trail.
Meanwhile, the Hillcrest work will see improvements to both lanes and the addition of trails that will connect with established pathways.
A public meeting will be held in May to get input on the Hillcrest plan.
Stressing the importance of the work during a technical briefing held Friday was Paul Murchison, the territory’s director of transportation engineering.
Murchison showcased a map of the area complete with toy vehicles to demonstrate highway traffic.
He noted improvements will help alleviate driver frustration on the highway.
Frustration often occurs when drivers get stuck behind slower and larger vehicles travelling the highway, Murchison said.
“You need these opportunities to relieve driver frustration,” he said.
“By relieving that frustration, you reduce the potential for people to make unsafe maneuvers on the highway.”
Officials acknowledged the work will mean some delays during construction, at the busiest time of year for tourist traffic on the road.
However, they noted efforts with both the city and territorial Department of Tourism and Culture will be made to minimize any inconvenience.
It was also highlighted in a summary of the Range Road work that the public will be advised of traffic delays before construction gets underway.
As well, “local residents may want to vary their route or allow for additional time for their daily commutes.”
The work for Range Road is currently going through the Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Board process, with the comment period having ended late last week.
It’s now in the reviewing information phase, before recommendations may be made.