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Expect road closures again this spring along escarpment, says Whitehorse mayor

Looking up the Yukon River in Whitehorse on Thursday, toward Robert Service Way and the escarpment. Debris from a landslide last year can be seen on the slope at right.  (Maria Tobin/CBC - image credit)
Looking up the Yukon River in Whitehorse on Thursday, toward Robert Service Way and the escarpment. Debris from a landslide last year can be seen on the slope at right. (Maria Tobin/CBC - image credit)

Whitehorse Mayor Laura Cabott says despite early monitoring, Robert Service Way is likely to face closures this spring due to landslides and instability on the adjacent escarpment.

Last May, landslides forced the closure of the road three times. In 2022, a landslide also forced the road's closure for several weeks through the spring.

"We expect that instability along the escarpment, because of climate change, is now a regular occurrence," said Cabott, at a news conference Thursday morning.

Cabott said the city is taking a proactive approach to monitoring the escarpment.

"We have radar-based slope scanning, so that's over in Riverdale and it monitors the movement of the slope. Of course we'll be continuing to do visual inspections, monitoring groundwater levels — that's a really important factor here for us," she said.

"We will be doing targeted survey monitoring of the critical slope areas."

The city has also acquired 400 concrete barriers and a sheet pile wall to use in some of the worst spots.

Taylor Eshpeter, the city's manager of engineering services, said his department has explored various options to deal with the landslide problem, and has settled on a hybrid approach.

Taylor Eshpeter, manager of engineering services for the City of Whitehorse, alongside Mayor Laura Cabott at a news conference, March 21, 2024.
Taylor Eshpeter, manager of engineering services for the City of Whitehorse, alongside Mayor Laura Cabott at a news conference, March 21, 2024.

Taylor Eshpeter, manager of engineering services for the City of Whitehorse, alongside Mayor Laura Cabott at a news conference on Thursday. (Maria Tobin/CBC)

"A combination of moving the road over as much as we could, and than also regrading the slope," said Eshpeter.

"We can't do either one of those things as a single option, because of the constraints of the river and then also the constraints with the airport at the top."

The city has outlined this approach in a grant application to the federal government's Disaster Mitigation Adaptation Fund.

Cabott said during her recent trip to Ottawa, she met with Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan to discuss the application, but there's no word yet about whether it will be approved.