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Underpass to be built this summer

Tim Edwards
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, March 3, 2010

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - A federally-funded underpass is slated for construction this summer on Highway 4, and city administration will make it a pedestrian-only pathway unless city council intervenes.

At the municipal services meeting on Feb. 15, the project was discussed between administration, council, and Tasha Stephenson, a member of the city's Transportation Issues Committee.

Stephenson said the committee would prefer an overpass.

"(Underpasses) are perceived as dangerous, dark, dirty," said Stephenson.

She mentioned the underpass on the Frame Lake Trail at the Yellowknife Co-op as an example.

City councillor Paul Falvo said he uses that underpass and doesn't mind it, though he has heard concerns about it. Coun. Bob Brooks said safety concerns such as lighting could be addressed in the construction of the new underpass.

Dennis Kefalas, director of public works for the city, said an underpass is essentially the only option given the project's budget. There is only about $440,000 in funding from the federal government, which he said would not be enough for an overpass. He added the highways belong to the GNWT, who support building an underpass because its construction would not disrupt traffic as much as an overpass.

Stephenson said another main concern was the lack of traction due to an icy concrete floor, and said the regular use of the underpass near the Yellowknife Co-op by snowmobiles has made it unsafe for pedestrians.

Kefalas said the new underpass is planned to be for pedestrians-only, with a barrier set up to prevent the entry of motorized vehicles.

Coun. Cory Vanthuyne was the only person who expressed disapproval at that.

"Why can't we have motorized vehicles go through there? Is it a must?" asked Vanthuyne.

"We've determined by the existing one that there hasn't been an incident ... Why build (the new underpass) and force (snowmobiles) to go up and go over the highway?"

Snowmobiles cross Highway 4 between Frame Lake and Niven Lake when going towards Great Slave Lake.

Doug Witty, owner and manager of Force One, said there are safety concerns in Yellowknife's snowmobile community in making that crossing.

"Theres no question that it's an issue. It is an ongoing safety concern," said Witty. "This council is not very motorized-friendly. The one at the Co-op works fine. It's disappointing that they would consider building (the new one) without considering motorized traffic."

Kefalas said the project, however, is being paid for by a federal grant which is given out to foster active, non-polluting commuting.

"They probably won't look favourably upon it (being used for motorized transportation)," said Kefalas.

He said, unless city council intervenes, the underpass will go ahead as a pedestrian-only pathway.

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