Wally Schumann: Climate Change Adaptation and Resilient Infrastructure

Mr. Speaker, one of the key challenges facing the Northwest Territories’ transportation system today is climate change.  In the past years, warming temperatures have led to permafrost degradation causing roadbed and runway instability, and shortened operating seasons for winter roads.  But climate change also means lower water levels that are disrupting marine resupply services for remote communities, and forest fires that are causing travel delays and permafrost and infrastructure damage.  The Department of Transportation is committed to creating a more resilient transportation system that is flexible to change for the better and generate significant benefits to Northern residents and businesses alike.

Mr. Speaker, research and development is critical to improving our understanding of climate change and identifying best practices for adaptation.  With the help of emerging technologies we are trying to identify promising opportunities to improve efficiency, safety, and environmental performance of the transportation sector.  The Department of Transportation has collaborated with Transport Canada on several research and development initiatives within the Networks of Expertise in Permafrost and Arctic Waters under the federal Northern Transportation Adaptation Initiative.  These projects have contributed over $4 million towards climate change research in the Northwest Territories.  Ongoing investment from the Government of Canada is necessary to continue advancing our progress and we are encouraging our federal partners to continue their support and renew funding for these projects.

Mr. Speaker, the Northwest Territories’ unique environment allows us to take a leading role in climate change research.  The Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway is being constructed over continuous permafrost, making it an ideal location for innovative construction techniques that help to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Two sections on the highway are currently being used to test innovative stream crossing structures and deep fill embankment techniques.  We also have 70 sites along the way where in-ground thermistors are constantly monitoring permafrost temperature.

The Department of Transportation is also taking advantage of modern technology to receive timely information on weather conditions. A new Tablet Runway Condition Reporting System is being used to report on runway surface conditions at Northwest Territories airports, improving flight planning for pilots. The tablet system increases the accuracy and timeliness of reporting on runway conditions, resulting in increased safety for air travel.

Mr. Speaker, it remains a long-term priority of the Department of Transportation to upgrade all winter roads in the territory to all-weather roads.  The Department is currently advancing three key strategic transportation corridors, including the Mackenzie Valley Highway from Wrigley to Norman Wells; the Tlicho All Weather Highway; and improved access into the Slave Geological Province.  These projects will respond to climate change and increase access to Northern communities, lower the cost of living for residents, and provide access to our natural resources and new economic development opportunities.

Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories must continue taking steps to protect our existing infrastructure assets.  Adaptation and innovation are our best tools to ensure a resilient transportation system that meets the needs of Northwest Territories residents and industry.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.