Transport Canada launches project to protect northern roads from climate change

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Transport Canada has launched the second phase of the Northwest Territories (NWT) Transportation Monitoring Program, which aims to study the effects of climate change on permafrost and transportation infrastructure.

A safe, secure and efficient transportation system is crucial to the viability and socio-economic welfare of northern communities and contributes to economic opportunities in the north of Canada. The second phase of the NWT Transportation Monitoring Program will see an extension of research activities along established test sites. The project will study the effects of climate change on permafrost – which is defined as ground, including rock or soil, that is frozen for a period of two or more years – and its subsequent effect on transportation infrastructure. Its results will ensure that future transportation projects undertaken by the NWT government take into account the potential impacts of climate change in their budget, design, construction, and maintenance phases. The results may also offer insights for other countries, as permafrost exists in 24% of exposed land in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Government of Canada is providing C$560,700 (US$434,400) over the next two years from the Northern Transportation Adaptation Initiative (NTAI) for this second phase of the Program, with the government of NWT providing the remaining amount, for a total project cost of C$747,600 (US$579,200). Transport Canada’s NTAI provides support to help Canadians better understand the effects of climate change on the northern transportation system and to facilitate the integration of adaptation measures into transportation planning and operations.

The Canadian Government’s Budget 2016 confirmed a two-year extension to the NTAI, including a C$1.69m (US$1.3m) grants and contributions component to support territorial governments and not-for-profit private sector research and development activities to maximize limited northern resources.

Phase two of the NWT Transportation Monitoring Program includes four components located throughout the Northwest Territories:

• The monitoring of the structural stability of highway embankments on two test sections along the newly constructed Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway (ITH);

• The installation and monitoring of 24 thermistors along the ITH;

• The monitoring of alternative culverts and water crossing structures at various locations along the ITH and the Mackenzie Valley Winter Road; and,

• The testing and monitoring of new rehabilitation techniques for roads constructed on discontinuous or sporadic permafrost at four different sections along Highway 3.

The first phase of the project included the establishment of two permafrost research and development sites along the ITH: a geotextile-reinforced deep fill embankment section near kilometer 82; and, an alternative polyethylene drainage culvert structure near kilometer 20.

“We are committed to the development of Canada’s northern transportation system, and I am pleased to contribute to this research project in the North,” said Marc Garneau, Canada’s Minister of Transport. “Climate change has an important impact on northern roads and airport runways built on permafrost, and on the safety of Arctic marine vessels and operations. The Northern Transportation Adaptation Initiative facilitates better and more integrated transportation planning and adaptation measures, which ultimately helps Canadians understand the effects of climate change in the North.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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