Tłıchǫ Highway — critical infrastructure connecting the communities of the Northwest Territories

By Arctic Business Journal - October 11, 2021

An indigenous-operated highway project to provide access from Highway 3 to the community of Whatì in the Northwest Territories, connecting the Canadian Arctic to the main national road system.

This profile is part of our ongoing Sustainable Arctic Opportunities Series, in which we partnered with the Arctic Economic Council to profile businesses and projects in the Arctic which represent active or recent investment opportunities, while demonstrating a strong commitment to sustainability. These profiles are just a sample of the vast spectrum of innovative and responsible businesses and organizations operating in the Arctic region. By presenting these businesses and letting them explain in their own words how they contribute to the region, we hope to show the breadth of opportunity and the enormous potential of the Arctic where, with a deep commitment to sustainability and respect for the environment, businesses and development projects can contribute positively to the communities that live there and the stewardship of this most spectacular area of our planet.

Key Information

Organisation name: Government of the Northwest Territories, Department of Infrastructure

Company headquarters: Yellowknife, NT, Canada

Sector/Industry: Infrastructure — Roads

Organization type: Public-private partnership

Project name: Tłıchǫ Highway (HWY 9), formerly Tłıchǫ All-Season Road

Project location: From NWT Hwy 3, km 196; to community of Whatì

SDGs fulfilled and in what ways:

  • #3 Good health and wellbeing: ensuring the health and well-being of individuals at all ages,
  • #8 Decent work and economic growth: providing employment, decent work and sustainable economic growth,
  • #9 Industry, innovation and infrastructure: building resilient infrastructure to promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization,
  • #13 Climate action: taking urgent action to combat climate change

Project ownership/key stakeholders: The Project Owner is the Government of the Northwest Territories. PPP Canada, GNWT, Tłıchǫ Investment Corporation (TIC), North Star Infrastructure (NSI), and Kiewit are the primary stakeholders.

Project website: www.inf.gov.nt.ca/TlichoHighway


Company description:

The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) employs approximately 4,800 employees who provide programs and various services for close to 44,000 residents.

Project description:

Tłıchǫ Highway is a two-lane, 97-kilometre gravel all-season road, providing a year-round connection from Whatìto Highway 3. The road top width is 8.5 metres including each lane of 3.75 metres width and another 0.5 metres width of shoulders on either side. There are four major structural bridges, two major structural culverts and more than one hundred drainage pipe culverts. This road is designed to RLU80 standards with a design speed of 80km/h for Rural Local undivided (Low Volume) and a posted speed limit of 70 km/h. This design standard is for year-round use by commercial and private vehicles according to the size and weight limitations outlined by NWT regulations. The highway project will increase access for the winter roads to the communities of Gamètì and Wekweètì.


Total staff in Sub-Arctic:

At peak construction, 276 workers were employed, 128 NWT/Tłıchǫ residents, including 31 female employees.

Currently there are 115 employees; 46 are NWT/Tłıchǫ residents, including 16 female employees.

During the post construction Operation and Maintenance (next 25 years) phase, NSI will provide 8 to 11 NWT/Tłıchǫ residents with employment.


Two-lane all-season, gravel highway between NWT Highway 3 and the Community of Whatì

Project timeline:

  • Substantial Completion Nov 30, 2021 and final completion Nov 30, 2022, (O&M through to 2047).
  • Substantial Completion date– 30/11/2021
  • Final completion date – 30/11/2022
  • O&M through to 2047

Total Project Cost: CA$411.8M (€285m)

Project funding sources: PPP Canada 25% and Government of NWT 75%

Investment needed/received: 25% from PPP Canada

Funding method desired : Equity

Project status: Funded, Under Construction. Road opening to public November 2021

Other significant metrics: 3 years of Construction and 25 years of O & M for total project cost.

Investment spending breakdown:

The capital cost of the project is CA$200m (US$149m). The value of the contract with North Star Infrastructure over the 28 years is CA$411.8m (US$307m), comprised of the following:

  • GNWT Substantial Completion payment: CA$110.4m
  • Service Payment – Capital Portion: CA$148.5 million
  • Service Payment – OMR Portion: $152.9 million

The Tłı̨chǫ Government is an equity partner (20%) in North Star Infrastructure GP

Interview Questions:

What are your project’s biggest positive contributions to the Arctic, at the regional or local level?
The project’s biggest contribution to the Arctic is its infrastructure development. This has a very important role in the longevity and health of local communities. Firstly, the Tłı̨chǫ Highway project will essentially improve the ease of access to various health care services for local residents. Secondly, there will be improved access to goods and services that will reduce the cost of living in the region. And thirdly, the project brings support concerning new social and employment opportunities while helping attract further interest from industry in the exploration and development of natural resources.

How does your project help develop human capital in the communities where it’s located?
Providing employment and economic development opportunities ensures communities remain healthy and vibrant. North Star Infrastructure GP has signed up to a detailed training plan that requires them to employ and train Tłı̨chǫ citizens into various roles through the construction, operations, and maintenance periods – with particular attention towards creating opportunities for women and youth. This will ensure that significant knowledge and capacity transfer occurs, building on the skills that already exist within the Tłı̨chǫ communities.

North Star Infrastructure GP is contractually obligated to ensure Tłı̨chǫ, Northern and Local Businesses deliver a meaningful proportion of the project, and achievement of these obligations will be carefully monitored by the GNWT. The employment and training opportunities associated with the project allows residents to better support themselves and supports the development of a strong northern workforce.

How have you ensured inclusive and equitable consultations with local / indigenous communities?
The Tłı̨chǫ Highway project ensures inclusive and equitable consultations with the local communities through various collaborations. For example, as part of the project, North Star Infrastructure (NSI) has set up a Community Coordination Lead (CCL) who works directly with the local communities to solicit their inputs and needs while addressing grievances. Furthermore, the CCL’s responsibility includes coordinating workshops and training to develop the necessary skills of residents to get them ready for working life.

The Government of the Northwest Territories has been working collaboratively with the Tłı̨chǫ Government (TG) to advance the Tłı̨chǫ All-Season Road project, through the environmental assessment process, procurement and now construction. Since 2012, the Tłı̨chǫ Investment Corporation (TIC), the business wing of TG, has had an equity share in the project.

How does your project balance economic and social goals with environmental protection?
The Tłı̨chǫ Highway project has undergone an environmental assessment which was required under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act (MVRMA). This assessment determined if the project was likely to have significant adverse impacts on the environment or be of public concern. The project was approved by the board and the Tłı̨chǫ Government has separately concurred with the board’s report. The report, conclusively, shows that the project balances economic and social goals while ensuring that the environment remains protected.

What specific mitigation measures, technological or otherwise, has your project put in place to safeguard the local environment?
The Tłı̨chǫ Highway project has put in place significant measures to ensure environmental protection and restrict potential future hazards. The current mitigation measures associated with the project to safeguard the environment include plans associated with permafrost, wildlife, caribou habitats, fish habitats and sediment erosion.

This article was produced for the Arctic Economic Council by the Polar Research and Policy Initiative with funds provided by the Nordic Investment Bank.

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