After months of delays, the two-year construction project to build the Ingraham Trail bypass around the Giant Mine in Yellowknife is finished and allowing traffic to hit the road.
The department of Transportation skipped the elaborate launch ceremony, mainly due to the cold weather, opting to simply remove the barriers to the new bypass Friday afternoon, according to spokesperson Earl Blacklock.
The new, nearly 6-km stretch of road begins on Highway 3 near Fred Henne Territorial Park, a kilometre west of the original intersection for Highway 3 and Ingraham Trail, and rejoins near the Yellowknife bridge.
The old Highway 4 will remain open for public access to the ski club property, the solid waste facility and boat launch areas, while Vee Lake Road and the Yellowknife River Day Use Area are now accessed from the bypass.
Currently a gravel road with paving scheduled for later in 2014, the bypass completion comes just in time for the opening of the ice roads to the Lac de Gras diamond mines northeast of Yellowknife.
“There’s a lot of very heavy trucks that go on the road,” Blacklock said. “Several thousand (vehicles) use it to access the Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road. It’s all of the vehicles that use the ice road to the diamond mines.”
Delayed but within budget: GNWT
Construction began on the bypass in late 2012 with a budget of $17 million and was scheduled for completion in October of 2013.
While the project is still estimated to come in on budget, design concerns with one of the bridges on the route caused the project to lag months behind schedule, Blacklock said.
“In the quality assurance step we found issues with one the bridges that had to be redesigned,” he said. “They had some engineering issues with the original design so the bridge didn’t quite line up as we wanted it to. The contractor went back and redesigned it so it would make that approval.”
The GNWT awarded the project contract to Det’on Cho Construction back in 2012, a move heavily criticised by Range Lake MLA Daryl Dolynny, who raised alarms about the lack of a competitive bid process.
Dolynny told The Journal last Thursday that his issue is not with the contractor, but the GNWT’s “antiquated” use of sole-source contracting, particularly with long-term construction projects.
“We’ve got to be very careful as a government how we put cross-hairs on certain companies and we provide hall passes for others…It’s about fairness,” he said.
Dolynny said he has yet to see the final numbers for the project, but is curious to see if it will come in on budget.
“I’m hoping and I’m crossing my fingers that taxpayers don’t have to incur any cost overruns,” he said.
New road allows Giant Mine cleanup
The GNWT’s original motivation to build the bypass road was the deteriorating condition of Ingraham Trail, which, built in the 1960s, was no longer up to safety standards, but the bypass has also become a priority for the team overseeing the remediation of Giant Mine.
“(The Giant Mine remediation team) was one of the main groups that we consulted. It was a department of Transportation project, but we took their needs into consideration,” Blacklock said.
The old Ingraham Trail road passed over a number of the Giant Mine’s vaults that store arsenic trioxide dust – a toxic substance produced by the gold purification process.
With the road gone, the cleanup team will now have full access to dismantle the chambers, which are considered the main environmental hazard by the Giant Mine remediation team.