Northwest Territories does not have any highways that are part of the Trans-Canada Highway system. There are gravel roads from Northern Alberta and Northern British Columbia into the southern portion of the Territories, and the Dempster Highway reaches up to the norther part of the Mackenzie River from the Yukon. There is also a wintertime ice road from Fort Simpson to Fort Franklin on Great Bear Lake, and to Fort Norman and Norman Wells on the Mackenzie River.
Deh Cho Bridge over the Mackenzie River
Since 2012, the 1 kilometere long Deh Cho Bridge has been opened up over the Mackenzie River (at km 24 on Highway #3). This bridge, which cost $200 million and 4 years to build, made Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories accessible year-round. the bridge replace a ferry, which could run in the summer and fall during the time the river was [relatively] ice-free. the bridge is free for private (passenger) vehicles but toll applies to all northbound commercial vehicles over 4500kg. To purchase a toll permit, contact the permit center by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling toll-free 1-877-737-7786.
The current fee structure (2014, indexed annually for inflation) for tolling is as follows:
Class A: commercial vehicles with two to four axles
• $75.00 (monthly remittance with transponder-equipped vehicle)
• $91.25 (single-use toll permit)
Class B: commercial vehicles with five or six axles
• $150.00 (monthly remittance with transponder-equipped vehicle)
• $166.25 (single-use toll permit)
Class C: commercial vehicles with seven or more axles
• $275.00 (monthly remittance with transponder-equipped vehicle) • $291.25 (single-use toll permit)
The fine for not paying the toll is $1,725. The fine for tampering with the tolling system is $2,875.
Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway
The Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway (locally shortened to “ITH”) is the first in Canada to reach the Arctic Ocean, thereby connecting Canada from sea to sea to sea. Building a highway to the Arctic Ocean was a major priority for the territorial and federal governments since at least the 1960s, to provide all-weather road access to northern communities including Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk.
In the 1960s, Oil & gas exploration begins in the Beaufort Sea and Mackenzie Delta, with offshore activities (by Dome Petroleum and Gulf Oil) peaking in the mid 1970s to late 1980s. In the early 2000s, the government of NWT opens a dialogue with the Government of Canada about the ITH project during proposals for infrastructure development, with planning funding by Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) approved in 2009.
The road is special in several ways, given the terrain being crossed. Typical ‘cut and fill’ techniques were not used for this project. To protect the permafrost, the design only uses a fill technique. Geotextile fabric was placed between the existing ground and the construction materials along the entire highway. And, the bulk of construction activities took place during the winter months, to best shield and preserve the permafrost.
In the Winter/Spring of 2013, work begins to upgrade the access road to Source 177, which became the first 19 kilometres of the ITH, and by 2014 the project company, EGT – Northwind Ltd., began the construction of the Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway. It opened to public traffic with much fanfare on November 15, 2017, with over 1,000 people attend the opening ceremonies in Inuvik and Tuktoyakuk, including the Governor General of Canada, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette.
Mackenzie Valley Highway
The Mackenzie Valley Highway (MVH) will connect Northwest Territories communities to the Arctic Coast.The northernmost section of the MVH, the Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway, opened to traffic on November 15, 2017. The next section is connecting Norman Wells south to Wrigley It will be a 2 lane gravel highway, about 321 kilometres long with 42 bridges, to be built at a cost of $700 kilometres long. [planning map] [planning links]
A new bridge will be built across the Great Bear River in the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories, supporting the current Mackenzie Valley Winter Road and the future all-weather Mackenzie Valley Highway. Geortechnical investigations are underway (2019) and construction will begin in 2020, with opening expected in 2024.
This 2 lane bridge, located at kilometre 938 of the Mackenzie Valley Winter Road, and will be 460 metres in length, with 4 concrete piers. The bridge will be constructed 800 meters from the confluence of Great Bear and Mackenzie Rivers. The new bridge will reduce safety and environmental risks associated with crossing the Mackenzie River ice road.
In the north of Canada, on roads north of Grand Prairie (Alberta) and Dawson Creek (BC) that head into the Yukon and the Northwest Territories are isolated, though the road is now paved or chip-sealed all the way to Yellowknife. You may be several hundred kilometres from the nearest service station, so it is always a good idea to carry spare gasoline. Many drivers also carry spare tires, tow rope or chain, a first aid kit, extra food, and in winter cold weather survival gear.
In summertime, on gravel roads, be careful when driving close to other vehicles, as flying rocks can damage your windshield or headlights. Many vehicles have plastic covers over the headlights, and wire grills over the radiator, rubber matting under the gas tank to reduce damage. In the summertimes, the roads can get very dusty, especially around construction sites. Keep your windows closed, and install filters over air intakes will reduce the impact.
Conversely, after prolonged rainstorms, gravel roads can become very slippery from the mud, even temporarily impassible, and the local RCMP will be able to give you road updates.
Do not drive fast on gravel roads, as it makes it easier to lose control, and slow down when you see oncoming vehicles, so your gravel does not damage their vehicle. You should not drive in the centre (crown) or the road, since oncoming vehicles doing the same can be around the next corner. Smart drivers always keep their headlights on when driving to increase your visibility.
If you have a mechanical breakdown, stay with your vehicle and flag the next passing vehicle for assistance. Do not go more than 100 metres from the road, to reduce your risk of getting lost.