What is the new Frank Channel Bridge all about? NWT MLA wants to know
It has been over a year and a half since the NWT Government promised that construction of the Frank Channel Bridge near Behchokǫ̀ was imminent and that work has not even started.
Now the MLA for the Tłı̨chǫ region wants to know: what’s up?
“They started it a few years ago and they did some work – then all of a sudden it stopped,” Jane Weyallon Armstrong, MLA for Monfwi, told CBC News.
“You can’t just stop. We must continue to build on this, because this bridge will fall apart. There are many structural issues that we need to seriously address.”
Originally built in 1960, the Frank Channel Bridge is part of Highway 3, the only road connecting the North Slave region with the rest of Canada. The highway serves as a gateway to the Ice Road that serves the NWT’s diamond mines.
It is also the only road connecting the Behchokǫ̀ neighborhoods of Rae and Edzo and is used to transport goods into the community.
Construction was promised for 2022 but never started
The territory began planning to replace the bridge back in 2018. The then deputy infrastructure minister noted that it was cheaper to build a new bridge than to try to repair the existing one.
Three years later, Transport Canada and the NWT government announced they would jointly commit $50 million to the project — $37.5 million from Ottawa, $12.5 million from Yellowknife — with construction expected in 2022 to begin and be completed by 2024.
But much to Weyallon Armstrong’s dismay, that never happened.
“No construction – nothing,” she said. “The bridge is still the way it is.”
CBC News asked the infrastructure ministry for an official update on the replacement project, but a spokesman said via email that a response before the publication deadline was not possible.
Weyallon Armstrong, who lives in Behchokǫ̀ herself, said the Frank Channel Bridge has become a major safety issue for her community. A litany of potholes and patchwork quilts make crossing dangerous for vehicles and sometimes virtually impassable for larger transports.
It’s also concerning that youth in Rae have to use the bridge every day to get to Chief Jimmy Bruneau School in Edzo, Weyallon Armstrong continued, as it puts them at greater risk should an accident happen.
“They are our future and their lives matter,” she said. “We have to do something.”
“This is a serious problem”
On Thursday, Weyallon Armstrong raised the issue in the NWT Legislative Assembly, urging Infrastructure Minister Diane Archie for details on the reasoning behind the delay.
Archie has chalked it up to a funding shortfall as inflation makes construction more expensive, but said her department is in talks with Transport Canada to get more. As such, she could not provide a timeline for the start or completion of the replacement project.
“We know it’s a priority. We know we have to get it done,” Archie said.
In the meantime, Archie said, there are a number of options the territorial government could explore to improve safety on the bridge, such as: B. Weight restrictions, rumble strips or signs advising drivers to be careful.
Speaking to CBC afterwards, Weyallon Armstrong said she was not satisfied with the minister’s “vague” answers.
“I don’t know if they really understand the nature of this bridge…[and] what we’re dealing with,” she said, adding that if construction is delayed much longer, it could ultimately become a burden on the territory.
Going forward, Weyallon Armstrong said she would like to see more timely updates on where the project is located and more engagement with leadership in the Tłı̨chǫ region.
“I want the local leaders … to come and see for themselves too, because this is a serious issue.”