October 15, 2004

Sealift delivers new traffic problems

198 new cars clog Iqaluit streets


Drivers in Iqaluit are feeling the impact of the summer sealift season, now that 198 more cars and trucks are on the streets.

Mark Hall, the director of public works and the man who fields traffic complaints for the City of Iqaluit, says he's noticing "substantial increases" in traffic, especially at peak times.

"It's happening on an annual basis," Hall says. "The capacity of the existing road system is being affected."

Rush hour in Iqaluit is brief, but it's also frustrating, inconvenient, and certainly not good for the environment.

Traffic bottlenecks at the Four Corners are a regular event at 9 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. daily.

Delays at the three-way stop in front of the hospital can add several minutes to commuting time for drivers who live in Apex, Tundra Valley or Happy Valley and work downtown.

The problem there is partly relieved by Iqaluit's four by-law officers, who take turns directing traffic from about 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Traffic has been aggravated by the large number of new vehicles delivered by sealift this shipping season.

Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping delivered 60 cars and small trucks to Iqaluit this summer.

Nunavut Sealink and Supply, operated by N3 Alliance, shipped 138 vehicles to Iqaluit, and an additional 40 vehicles to communities outside of the capital.

In the west, the Inuit-owned Northern Transportation Company Ltd. delivered 50 vehicles to the Kitikmeot region.

The exact number of vehicles now in Nunavut is difficult to determine.

The 2002 Canadian Vehicle Survey, conducted by Transport Canada, found that Nunavut had about 3,000 light vehicles in total, rounded to the nearest thousand. Light vehicles include cars, station wagons, vans, pick-up trucks and SUVs.

The same survey calculated 99 vehicles per 1,000 residents, the lowest rate of vehicles-per-capita in Canada by far, followed by the Northwest Territories, with 464 vehicles per 1,000 residents.

That number appears to be rising quickly.

The motor vehicle division at the Government of Nunavut's Department of Economic Development and Transportation reports a total of 1528 private vehicles registered as of Oct. 5, 2004, up from 1482 at the same time last year.

The number of registered government vehicles, not including ATVs or construction vehicles, rose from 787 to 891 in the same time period.

But those numbers only reflect the number of vehicles that owners have registered.

"There are lots of communities where there's not a lot of enforcement," says David Buchan, the director of the Motor Vehicles Division in Gjoa Haven.

People bringing new cars into Nunavut often forget to register their cars after the 30-day grace period, which explains the high number of Newfoundland license plates visible on Iqaluit roads.

"More commonly, you'll see ones that expire," Buchan says.

Nonetheless, business is booming at the Motor Vehicle Division office in Iqaluit, where licenses are processed for all 14 Baffin communities and compliance is done for all of Nunavut.

"Every year there's an increase in volume," says Tom Braggard, manager of inspection and services.

"We're also transferring more licenses from other jurisdictions than we've ever done before."

In addition to the immediate effect on traffic, Nunavut should also be worried about the long-term impact of more vehicles.

Parking is already recognized as a problem at City Hall and there is no way to recycle old vehicles locally.

Public transit is one solution, but long cold waits outside and a low population could make that impractical.

"One bus is our public transit system at the moment," says Hall at Public Works. "We've given no consideration to increasing that."

The city is, however, reviewing traffic flow in Iqaluit's core area and on the ring road.