Wally Schumann: Climate Change and Transportation Infrastructure

Mr. Speaker, I would like to provide an update on the Department of Transportation’s research and development activities into adapting our transportation infrastructure to the effects of climate change. Increasing our knowledge and better understanding how climate change affects infrastructure is the first step in developing adaptation strategies. The scientific information gathered through climate change research has already made a difference in northern infrastructure planning, design, construction and maintenance and will be a game-changer in the future. 

We can already see climate change affecting the transportation system of the NWT.  In recent years, the Department has experienced situations including permafrost degradation, which leads to highway embankment and airport runway instability; changing ice conditions which affect the construction and durability of our winter roads; fluctuating seasonal atmospheric conditions that impact on runway maintenance activities and flight services; and low water conditions that affect marine operations.

The most significant impacts, Mr. Speaker, are on our operation and maintenance budgets, which are increasing every year. 

That is why investments in climate change resilient infrastructure, such as all-weather roads instead of winter roads, and permanent bridges instead of ice bridges, are key to addressing economic, environmental and social impacts on our territory and residents for years to come.

One of the Department’s three main strategic priorities under its 25-year Transportation Strategy is embracing innovation. Through this priority, we aim to improve service delivery and modernize our transportation system. The Northwest Territory’s unique environment makes it an ideal location for conducting climate change research and collecting data which can be used to protect valuable infrastructure assets and support a resilient transportation system.

Research and development tells us about the nature and severity of climate change impacts and the significant risks to infrastructure it creates. It lets us examine adaptation options and costs, and define further research and monitoring needs.

Mr. Speaker, these initiatives depend on collaboration with the scientific community.  The Department is currently involved in numerous research and development projects across the territory.  The second phase of the Northwest Territories Transportation Monitoring Program was announced earlier this summer. Through a long-term partnership with Transport Canada, a total of $747,600 will be invested over the next two years into new research operations and into an extension of existing test sites. The research will focus on the effects of climate change on permafrost and on our transportation infrastructure. Phase 2 of the program is made up of four components located throughout the Northwest Territories.  These include two test sections along the newly constructed Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway to monitor the structural stability of highway embankments, the installation of 24 thermistors along both newly constructed sections of the highway and off right-of-way locations, monitoring alternative watercourse structures at various locations along the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway and the Mackenzie Valley Winter Road, and four different sections along Highway No. 3 for testing and monitoring new rehabilitation techniques for roads constructed on discontinuous permafrost under warming conditions.

Prior to this, in 2015, the Department had received an initial amount of $669,000 from Transport Canada for Phase 1 of the NWT Transportation Monitoring Program.  That phase included two Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway permafrost research and development projects, a geotextile-reinforced deep fill embankment section near kilometre 82 and an alternative plastic drainage culvert structure near kilometre 20.

The Department also conducted Light Detection and Ranging surveys on the Dempster Highway and the proposed alignment of the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway to produce high-resolution digital elevation maps.  The surveys provide topographic baselines for monitoring future change.

Mr. Speaker, it is important for us to work collaboratively with all our partners.  The Department of Transportation is providing support to an initiative led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to develop an updated NWT Climate Change Strategy. This Strategy will act as a road map for our government’s efforts to deal with the impacts of climate change over the next five to ten years.

The Department of Transportation also continues to support our government’s work with federal partners on the Pan-Canadian Framework for Clean Growth and Climate Change. We are participating in three interdepartmental working groups on climate change, which address the topics of mitigation, adaptation, and clean technology and innovation.

Mr. Speaker, adapting to climate change is a significant challenge. Climate change has added a new level of uncertainty to our daily lives, and what happened in the past is no longer necessarily the case in the future.  That’s why it is important for us to continue to promote research and development, cultivate partnerships, incorporate climate change data in all decisions, and share best practices to meet these challenges ahead.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.