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Nunavut-Manitoba road start unlikely before 2012

Favoured route runs 1,230 km from Rankin to Thompson

By JANE GEORGE

It’s back to the drawing board after a second round of consultations on the Nunavut-Manitoba road.

Engineers will now decide exactly where to place the road along the two-kilometre corridor of land that runs from Rankin Inlet to the Manitoba border, said Dawn Brigham, the Kivalliq Inuit Association’s road project coordinator.

This could take another year, she said.

After this, engineers will be able to provide a more exact cost for the road, which is currently estimated at about $1.2 billion.

While politicians scout for the money to start construction, the land use and environmental studies and permitting process for the road will take three years. So, the first shovel of earth won’t likely be moved until 2012.

Last month, the Project Advisory Council looked at the latest plans for the route, which were presented at meetings in Thompson, Manitoba and Rankin Inlet.

The first round of public consultations last year visited 15 communities in Kivalliq and in Manitoba.

Response to the road during these meeting was positive, although some residents raised concerns over impacts such as increased access to alcohol and drugs as well as potential damage to caribou populations.

Others suggested building a railway may be a more efficient link. However, that would require completely levelling the land for a track.

Locating feasible route alternatives was challenging enough due to the need to run the route near landfill and cross a wide variety of terrain.

The route had to avoid rivers, be near sand, and skirt caribou calving grounds and bird sanctuaries.

Engineers and the public finally evaluated three routes from Rankin Inlet and Churchill to the existing Manitoba system at Lynn Lake, Thompson or Gillam.

Of the three routes, the so-called “central eastern route” received the most favourable ranking.

This eastern route runs 1,230 kilometres from Rankin Inlet to Thompson, joining Manitoba’s road system east of Gillam.

This route was judged the “most effective, safe and reliable route in light of its length, the terrain, the lowest construction and maintenance costs and ease of staging,” according to information contained in a recent bulletin on the project. Its impact on the environment was seen as moderate due to it having the shortest length of new road construction.

The actual road will likely start as a winter road and over time develop into a two-lane all-weather road.

The first step is put in the bridges. Then, the road surface must be graded and raised so that snow will blow off, instead of accumulating on the surface.

The surface won’t be paved, but it will be built up about 1.5 metres above the existing grade.

“It would look like a runway,” Brigham said.

In April 2005, the KIA first announced the engineering company SNC Lavalin would start meeting with communities in the region over the next two years to hear their concerns about having road access to the South.

Funding for this $1-million contract came from the two governments, Transport Canada, and federal programs managed locally by KIA.

The next phase of the engineering studies will be tendered this year and may include a study of a railway alternative.

The project’s final completion date depends on the amount of money available and how the road is built.

But if the road is finished, it will be possible to get from Rankin Inlet to Winnipeg in a couple of days of hard driving.

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