Working together to improve the Alaska Highway

Scott Kent, MLA for Riverdale NorthAs Submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, April 17th, 2015
by Scott Kent, Minister of Highways & Public Works

I write this letter to clarify misinformation and rumours surrounding the Whitehorse Corridor Draft Functional Plan for the Alaska Highway. I want to ensure that people have the facts so they can participate fully in this significant planning project.

This section of highway is one of our most significant stretches of road. It is used by virtually everyone who travels in Yukon. It serves local, tourist and commercial traffic. Our government works hard to provide a safe and reliable transportation system, and the Whitehorse corridor is a crucial part of this network.

With this in mind, the Yukon government contracted a professional engineering firm to develop a long-term functional plan for 40 kilometres of highway. The objective is to develop a solution to address existing and anticipated safety and capacity issues.

The short-term improvements needed over the next 5 years are estimated to cost about $52 million. The plan also identifies larger budgetary figures that are connected to medium- and longer-term improvements, but those would only be implemented if population growth and usage required. It makes sense to plan for future needs; it allows us to be proactive in responding and managing the highway.

Right now, the plan is draft. It was prepared to meet technical guidelines and standards currently used in Yukon and throughout Canada. It presents one possible solution to improving safety and traffic flow. We are now looking for feedback from individual, business and public perspectives in order to refine and improve the plan.

The draft plan does not require the Airport Chalet building to be moved, demolished, renovated, or otherwise changed. As currently proposed, the highway would be closer to the building. The draft plan shows a blue line crossing the building which represents the multi-use trail. During detailed design, the trail location will be adjusted, but it will not be through the building. How we allow for a multi-use trail in this area is just one of the issues we look to the public to help us solve.

Under the Highways Act, highway right-of-ways are extensions of the highway on either side of the road. The bulk of the improvements will be accommodated within the right-of-way. While Yukon government does license some uses of the right-of-way, this comes with the condition that usage is temporary and may not be continued if the land is required for road improvements. Any business or property owner who currently has a license to use the right-of-way is aware of this.

We have been in contact with all business and property owners along the Whitehorse corridor. Businesses were first contacted in February 2014 to inform them of the project and to improve our understanding of any of their concerns or future development plans. Representatives met with them again in February 2015 to review the proposed improvements and potential impacts and to identify possible areas of refinement. Forty individual meetings have taken place since February, and we are more than willing to meet with anyone with concerns or ideas they would like to discuss.

In recent public discussion of this project, focus has been directed on the traffic flow benefits of these improvements, but the safety benefits – improving intersections, reducing collisions and accommodating pedestrians and cyclists — have been overlooked.

I encourage all Yukoners to become involved with the public review process. Learn about the plan by visiting the project website or by attending one of the upcoming Open Houses at the Yukon Transportation Museum on April 22, 23, 24 from 4 to 8 pm and April 25 from 11 am to 3 pm. You can also contact the project information line, and submit comments by email or by filling out a hard copy of the survey and mailing it in.

Get informed, get involved and help Yukon government refine the plan to shape this important road. Feedback and comments are being accepted until May 15, 2015.