Greenland’s first road project connecting settlements clears its last hurdle

Construction is set to begin in late July

This is an artist’s rendering of how the road between Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut would look. (Qeqqata Kommunia)

By Kevin McGwin
Arctic Today

Construction of Greenland’s first road connecting two settlements will begin at the end of July, when contractors start work on what will eventually be a 130-kilometre road from Kangerlussuaq to Kangerluarsuk Tulleq, a fjord in the vicinity of Sisimiut, the country’s second largest settlement.

A road between Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut has been discussed for years as a way to promote tourism and mobility, but it was not until national authorities approved an environmental impact assessment of the combined gravel and asphalt road last week that its construction was permitted to begin.

Qeqqata Kommunia, the local council responsible for the area, announced on Wednesday, June 17, that it would begin construction of the first segment in late July.

“In the rest of the world, building a road across open terrain is a daily occurrence, but this is the first time we’re starting to build a road between two settlements,” said Malik Berthelsen, Qeqqata’s mayor.

This map shows proposed paths for the road as it runs between Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut (Qeqqata Kommunia)

In addition to evaluating what impact the road will have on the area it passes through, the assessment also lays out guidelines for the course of the road and identifies steps contractors must take to avoid disturbing the environment.

Construction of the full 130 kilometres is estimated to cost up to 500 million kroner (CA$102 million) and can be expected to contribute 50 million kroner annually to the local economy each year, according to Qeqqata Kommunia’s calculations.

Some of that could be generated by things like export of meat, made possible by lower shipping costs to Kangerlussuaq, but most of any income that stands to come from from tourism, according to the council.

“Building a road from Kangerlussuaq to Kangerluarsuk Tulleq supports the council in its plans to develop the tourism industry,” the council wrote in its application for approval to build the road.

The council does not have funding to build the full road, and has instead decided to build it in stages.

The initial 21-kilometre segment will begin in Kangerlussuaq, site of what is currently Greenland’s primary international airport. While most of the airport’s traffic will be diverted to Nuuk and Ilulissat after airport improvements are completed, Kangerlussuaq is expected to retain an active airfield, and Qeqqata Kommunia is building a port for use by cruise ships.

“From Qeqqata Kommunia’s perspective, the airport in Kangerlussuaq is a major asset that can support the continued development of the tourism industry,” the council wrote.

Critics had expressed concern that the road would spoil the wilderness experience of the Arctic Circle Trail, which runs in the same direction, but the assessment found the two were sufficiently separate to prevent the trail from being impacted.

The first segment will provide access to a UN World Heritage Site and is hoped to help encourage travellers to visit the area. Without the road, the council argues, few, if any, people will be able to visit the site.

Another 10 kilometres of the road will initially be laid out as an ATV trail, but that, too, will eventually be widened and upgraded to accommodate road vehicles.

Berthelsen expected that opening up the hinterlands between the two settlements would have multiple benefits.

“It’s good for the people who live here and for the people who visit Kangerlussuaq,” he said. “And when the road is finally extended to Sisimiut, we’re going to see even more opportunities open up.”

According to the environmental impact assessment, the road to Kangerluarsuk Tulleq can be expected to be useable by wheeled vehicles eight months out of the year, and that it will be used by up to 1,600 vehicles a year by 2030, with the vast majority of travel occurring during the peak travel season, when the number of road vehicles could be as high as 35 per day. In addition, some 15 ATVs are expected to use the road each day at that time of year.

If the road is extended into Sisimiut, the volume of traffic can be expected to increase four-fold, the environmental impact assessment predicts.

This article originally appeared at Arctic Today and is republished with permission.

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(4) Comments:

  1. Posted by Alan Klie on

    This is exciting news. Good work, Greenland! The time has long since passed when Nunavut should’ve had roads connecting it to the rest of Canada. Yes, it’s expensive but the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks.

    • Posted by Consistency on

      A road into Nunavut (Kivalliq) could have a great impact on the caribou migration routs and be very bad for them. I am not sorry the road north is taking long… if /when it happens it needs to be done right. Caribou are the most important resource in the Kivalliq.

      but i really hope this road works will in Greenland and is only a positive to those that live there.

      • Posted by Alan Klie on

        @Consistency, I absolutely agree that environmental considerations and the possible effect on traditional hunting must be taken into account when constructing a road. I had a look at the ranges and calving areas of the Kivalliq caribou herds. From what I saw, a highway through the Kivalliq could bypass most, if not all, calving areas. If the highway were kept as close to the coast as possible, then I think disruption could be kept to a minimum. Other options, such as overpasses (like in Banff) or underpasses for the caribou could also minimize the impact. There will be other issues too, such as the possibility of easier illegal or unwanted alcohol coming up but I still believe that those issues can be addressed and should not prevent a highway from being built. There are so many benefits: increased economic opportunities, decrease in the cost of living, better health outcomes (healthier foods become cheaper options) and a sense of connectedness, to name a few. I believe that the benefits of roads connecting all communities on the mainland and Baffin Island to the rest of Canada would far outstrip any disadvantages.

  2. Posted by Ken on

    Greenland for some reason can just get things done, from fibre, ports, hydro dams, all kinds of infrastructure.
    Congratulations on your road now too.

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