A driving trip of the Dempster was completed over four days in late August 2013 to visually examine the road, meet with local maintenance personnel to discuss their sections of the highway, and document both existing and potential maintenance issues (from three sources). The trip was completed by representatives of EBA Engineering, Gov’t of NWT, Yukon Highways, and Carleton University. The trip was looking for the effects from warming ground temperature, increased surface runoff, and extreme events. Researchers from Yukon College (now University), the Yukon Government, and various stakeholders contributed to the project’s success. Researchers from Yukon College helped to identify climate and geohazard vulnerabilities. Associated Engineering staff, Yukon College, Yukon Government, and various stakeholders participated in a workshop to identify issues, priorities, and potential investigations that could be completed to support the functional plan for the highway and required future projects.
In 2013, a team made up of representatives from the government of Northwest Territories Highways, government of Yukon Highways, EBA Engineering and Carleton University began the first phase of a project aimed to assess the vulnerability of the Dempster Highway to the impacts of climate change. Surveys for the road began in 1958 and it was opened in 1979. It is a very remote, gravel road that provides the only year-round highway connection between Inuvik and the rest of Canada’s highway network, and was built on continuous permafrost for 90% of its 736 km. The road structure is an embankment, designed to maintain permafrost and prevent thaw subsidence. Over the past decade there has been an increase in the frequency and severity of issues related to drainage, erosion, and permafrost degradation. As the climate continues to warm, rising streams and increasing numbers of extreme weather events will put additional strain on the aging drainage system. With much of the highway located in the continuous permafrost zones, the warming climate also has a direct impact on the performance of the road, and can result in settlement, sinkhole formation, embankment failure, and other geohazards. Although there are no communities along the Yukon section of the highway, it is a critically important route to the Beaufort Delta Region in the Northwest Territories, serving as a long-haul transport route for food, fuel, supplies, and other goods. The remote location and length of the highway, coupled with the challenging terrain and ground conditions result in relatively high maintenance costs, considering the low traffic volumes (63 vehicles per day).