Whitehorse quickly pulls back from reopening Robert Service Way 24/7, after 'unanticipated' slope movement

Robert Service Way in Whitehorse partially reopened to traffic on May 15. The city planned to fully reopen the road Thursday, but then quickly changed plans because of movement observed on the slope where the recent landslides have happened. (Ethan Lang/CBC - image credit)
Robert Service Way in Whitehorse partially reopened to traffic on May 15. The city planned to fully reopen the road Thursday, but then quickly changed plans because of movement observed on the slope where the recent landslides have happened. (Ethan Lang/CBC - image credit)

The City of Whitehorse's plan to fully reopen Robert Service Way to traffic fell almost as quickly as the landslide that closed the roadway last month.

The city announced early Thursday afternoon that the road — one of the main arteries into the downtown — would now be open 24/7 as the risk of more landslides had been "mitigated as much as possible." The Millennium Trail was also open again to pedestrians and cyclists, the city said.

Less than three hours later, the reopening plan had been scrapped because of "unanticipated movement observed late this afternoon by the slope scanner," according to a statement. It said the road and trail would be closed again at 7 p.m.

Robert Service Way and the Millennium Trail were closed in early April after a landslide sent rocks and dirt from the escarpment spilling onto the pavement. The road was partially re-opened a week and a half ago, but the trail has so far stayed closed.

The partial reopening of Robert Service Way meant that it was open to traffic only from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. while engineers continued to monitor for more potential slides. The road was also closed through the long weekend, and that's when another small slide happened.

The initial news release on Thursday said the city would continue to monitor the escarpment to ensure it was safe. A berm, jersey barriers and some monitoring equipment were to remain in the area "for the time being."

"While the situation can still change, the risks have been mitigated as much as possible," the release stated.

The update later on Thursday said the decision to open the road 24/7 was now postponed. It said crews would reassess conditions on Friday morning to determine whether the road might be opened at 7 a.m., as it has for the last 10 days.

Vincent Bonnay/CBC
Vincent Bonnay/CBC

The city's plan is to ultimately remove the berm and concrete barrier installed in the area, as they were always intended to be temporary. Leaving them in place would affect traffic flow and require regular maintenance, the city said.

Some other trails along the base of the escarpment near Drury Street and in the downtown will also remain closed for now. The city says spring freshet can cause further slides in those areas, as seen last year.

This was the second year that spring landslides have caused weeks-long closures of Robert Service Way. The city said Thursday that people had better get used to it.

"Landslides along the escarpment and Robert Service Way are now a regular occurrence and spring closures should be expected annually until a permanent solution can be found," the news release states.

It says the city is now exploring possible long-term solutions. Whitehorse Mayor Laura Cabott has said that would likely involve a multi-million-dollar "mega-project."