Last week’s federal budget included a commitment that will improve highway travel in the South Slave.
The March 22 budget allocated $21.6 million to pave the remaining 60-kilometre gravel section of Highway 5 through Wood Buffalo National Park.
“It was good news on the highway,” said Hay River Mayor Brad Mapes. “It’s going to be great for the community of Fort Smith. It will benefit our community, too. It puts money into the region. So that was really good news and I think it’s positive all the way around.”
Mapes said the highway project will help Hay River in a number of ways, including the fact that construction companies in the community will be able to bid for the work.
“Definitely it’s going to bring more tourism,” he said.
Plus, Mapes said it will be good to have the project completed for the Arctic Winter Games to be co-hosted by Hay River and Fort Smith in 2018.
“I think this road is going to connect us better and it’s good for the whole region,” he said.
Mapes said the project is probably not going to happen until next year.
Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod also welcomed the Highway 5 project.
“I think it’s going to be a good project that’s going to benefit certainly the people in Fort Smith and also Hay River but it’s going to bring work into the area, that portion of the NWT,” he said. “I was really happy to see that project come forward.”
However, the MP explained obtaining funding for the project was not an easy process.
“I was really worried, to be honest, because the project had been earmarked to get funded through the Building Canada program but because it runs through a park, the Building Canada program criteria wouldn’t allow it to move forward,” he said.
McLeod said Parks Canada was then approached about funding the project but it said it didn’t have the money in its budget.
“So we were going back and forth trying to get an exemption to Building Canada so that we could include it,” he said. “We finally convinced the minister to put it in this budget, and I was really happy to see it there.”
On a stop in Hay River during last year’s election campaign, the former prime minister, Stephen Harper, promised that $14 million would go to finish chipsealing the gravel section of Highway 5.
“The previous government had made a commitment to include this money if they got elected,” said McLeod. “One of the first things that I did when I got to this position as MP was to see what was in the system already. Highway 5 was nowhere to be found. If we didn’t include it in this budget, it was not going to happen because the previous government had no budget earmarked anywhere.”