Yukon Highways and Public Works

Building infrastructure solutions

The Government of Yukon and, more specifically, the Department of Highways and Public Works is preparing for future growth by investing in infrastructure.

In recent years, the territory has made several impressive infrastructural additions. This month, The Canadian Business Journal spoke with Mike Johnson, Deputy Minister with Yukon Highways and Public Works, in highlighting the significance of these projects.

Overcoming challenges

A key area of consideration in the project involvement of Yukon government’s Highways and Public Works is the challenges that need to be realized when constructing these projects. For example, in recent years, the department has had to consider large land mass, a small but rising population, and climate change when considering construction plans. Yukon government’s Highways and Public Works has created projects that have overcome barriers and, because of those efforts, these projects provide long-term sustainability.

Impressive projects portfolio

Chief among these constructional efforts is the Front Street Project, in Dawson City. The project builds on the territory’s commitment toward sustainable infrastructure. By ensuring proactive and creative problem solving techniques are applied to all projects, the department considers it crucial to balance the immediate needs of the all its communities with the development of long-term, technical solutions. The Front Street Project was front of the line in these efforts. The Dawson City Infrastructure Heating Project is a prime example of moving toward a sustainable investment in critical infrastructure that contributes to a healthy and viable community. Utilizing a local resource, currently considered “waste wood”, this project will support local business development and reduce Dawson City’s dependency on fossil fuels.

The Front Street Project

Accordingly, Front Street in Dawson City, in 2008, was paved with a synthetic known as bituclair, which produces a colorized pavement that minimizes solar absorption and melting of the underlying permafrost.

“Standard asphalt concrete pavement was not an option because a portion of Front Street overlies permafrost, and black asphalt has significant solar heat absorption properties,” Johnson explained, “so we looked for a solution that had long-term maintenance opportunities for us but also did not result in the whole structure falling apart in the short term.

“We chose a clear binder—bituclair—because of its innovative reputation in Europe, and it had not yet been used in Canada. The end result was a light-coloured, long-term surface for Front Street.”

The Front Street Project ties in with another project, known as the Permafrost Test Site, which is located on the Alaska Highway near the small rural community of Beaver Creek. It’s an area that in recent years has accumulated ‘significant’ operational and maintenance costs, due to its presence of ‘warm permafrost’.

Accordingly, Yukon government’s Highways and Public Works has sought ways to mitigate and adapt this section of the Alaska Highway to keep it both safe and sustainable.

Permafrost Test Site

The Permafrost Test Site serves as a research initiative to address the issue of melting permafrost under Yukon’s roads and highways, deemed a ‘reconstruction and rehabilitation’ of the north part of the highway.

“Our intent is to come up with cost-effective, protective techniques that reduce highway repair and improve roadway systems,” Johnson said. “It is a 600-metre stretch of highway, and the Test Site was completed in 2008 at a cost of $2.7 million.”

The Permafrost Test Site is certainly a unique project and, because of its success, the idea has attracted interest from other Canadian provinces and territories dealing with similar issues on remote roadways.

“It demonstrates a proactive approach to dealing with the rapid effects of climate change. Several of these solutions will solve some problems for us and I think the positive part is what we have learned can be applicable to the rest of the circumpolar world,” Johnson summarized.

Wastewater Treatment Plant

Sustainability was also a key factor when Yukon government’s Highways and Public Works considered water treatment solutions for the Dawson City Wastewater Treatment Plant.

In 2008, Yukon Highways and Public Works was given ownership of the City of Dawson’s waste water treatment order. Proceeding in partnership with the Dawson City, Yukon government’s Highways and Public Works investigated prospective lagoons as well as the consideration of the mechanical treatment plant.

Connected to this project is a proposed small biomass heating plant, with the Whitehorse Corrections Facility also designed to burn wood pellets.

“It’s a long-term solution that meets the needs of the community. The wastewater treatment plant will be substantially complete by 2012,” Johnson added.

22 Waterfront Place

22 Waterfront Place is a seniors’ housing project that was part of the federal stimulus package.

According to Johnson, the challenge with this project was not only the need for senior housing, but more critically, finding the land to accommodate such a project. Typically, government-owned land had been used for these types of construction efforts, however, in this case, it was a design-build project. More specifically, land was a critical part of the proposal submissions. Highways and Public Works acted as the performing department, working closely with Yukon Housing Corporation as the client to develop the Request for Proposal and design standards. The project has been delivered on time, on budget, and within significant time and operational constraints, in addition to being more than 80 per cent energy efficient, offering a significant contribution to the area’s conservation efforts, green energy, and energy alternatives.

Goals for the future

Sustainable infrastructure has been the biggest challenging facing Yukon government’s Highways and Public Works.

With Yukon government’s Highways and Public Works responsible for government buildings, airports, roadways, bridges, and technical infrastructure, it must continuously look at changing parameters in order to be sustainable.

“We also have a lot of aging infrastructure [dating back to the Second World War], starting with the Alaska Highway,” Johnson summarized. “We have significant economic activity in the mining sector that is putting huge pressure on the hard costs—roads, airports, and bridges—and the soft costs, like social implications, in having that kind of boom.

“We can see our challenges coming out ahead of us, so we have to work closely with industry to ensure that they are on the same page as us.”

Today, Yukon is witnessing incredible growth, which has served as an excellent economic driver, but has put significant pressure on the territory’s infrastructure, with more pressure to come.

“We’ve adopted a risk management system that will enable us to identify emerging problems,” Johnson concluded. “We have to deal with the uncertainty of climate change. In many ways, I believe that Yukon is the ‘canary in the mine shaft’ because, with a lot of our infrastructure, a one or two degree change has huge implications in certain areas.”