7.2 Trends in road traffic

Last Updated: 
May 28, 2015


This indicator tracks vehicle kilometres travelled, defined by the total number of vehicles for a specific road segment multiplied by the length of the highway. This indicator also tracks the average average daily traffic (ADT) on winter roads in each of the Northwest Territories (NWT) ecozones. Finally, the indicator provides a measure of total truck traffic along selected winter roads in the NWT.

Bison and road traffic in the NWT
Bison and road traffic in the NWT.

The indicator tracks trends in road use as an index of short-term disturbances due to land-based traffic. Not all road use creates disturbances for people or wildlife, but if even a small percentage does, then an increase in road traffic may be translated into an increase in disturbance. Increased road traffic, and the associated increase in noise and human activity, can be linked to a reduction in effective habitat availability for some wildlife species.

Increased road traffic is also linked to increased wildlife collisions and mortality. This kind of mortality can have a significant impact on some wildlife populations such as small slow-moving species like snakes and amphibians, and species attracted to the road surface such cranes and some shorebirds.

Efforts to reduce travel speed, to modify the availability of forage near roads that attract large herbivores, and to increase driver awareness of the possible presence of wildlife can greatly reduce the rate of wildlife mortality.  

An indicator in the WILDLIFE focal point tracks wildlife collisions for some large herbivores. The total length of road per ecozone is measured by an indicator in the LANDSCAPE CHANGES focal point.

This information is summarized from Highway Traffic Annual Reports1 published by the Department of Infrastructure, Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT).

NWT focus

Roads outside NWT communities can be classified into four types: highways (paved or gravel), access roads, winter roads, and private roads.  Information on traffic along these roads is available for all except private roads.  The type of potential disturbances caused by traffic can differ with the type of road. Disturbances along paved highways may include noise and increased stress to wildlife from high-speed vehicle traffic. Dust deposition along untreated gravel highways and access highways may be an additional disturbance. 

Disturbances along NWT winter roads are restricted to one season but may include noise effects on fish populations and increased human access for other activities in areas that are remote in the summer. Most private roads in the NWT were constructed at mine sites and are not accessible to the public. The amount of road traffic along these roads is not known. 

Highways located in each ecozone:

  • Taiga Plains  Highways 1 (Mackenzie Highway to Wrigley), 2 (Hay River Highway), 3 (part) (Yellowknife Highway), 5 (Fort Smith Highway), 6 (Fort Resolution Highway), 7 (Liard Highway) and 8 (Dempster Highway)
  • Taiga Shield – Highways 3 (part) (Yellowknife Highway) and 4 (Ingraham Trail)

Current view: status and trend

Road traffic, as measured by Vehicle Kilometres Traveled, is increasing on highways 1, 3 (between Behchokö and Yellowknife), 5 and 8. Traffic is heaviest near larger communities such as Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith and Inuvik. The average daily number of vehicles can reach 1000+ on the Ingraham Trail, Highway 3 to Behchokö, and near Hay River, where many people commute every day.

Travel as estimated by vehicle kilometres traveled on NWT highways
Travel as estimated by vehicle kilometres traveled on NWT highways. Reproduced from Department of Transportation's Highway Traffic Annual Report 2008.

Road-related indicators (population, registered vehicles, licensed drivers, and travel as estimated by vehicle kilometres traveled) on NWT highways.
Road-related indicators (population, registered vehicles, licensed drivers, and travel as estimated by vehicle kilometres traveled) on NWT highways. Reproduced from the Department of Transportation's Highway Traffic Annual Report 2008.

Road travel and the number of registered vehicles are increasing faster than the NWT population and the number of registered drivers.

Seasonal truck traffic along the Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road has increased substantially depending on mine construction requirements. This road is an extension of the Ingraham Trail (Hgw 4) and serves the diamond mines north of Yellowknife. The increase in truck traffic on the Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road occurred in four phases: (a) BHP Billiton diamond mine went into production in October 1998, (b) Diavik Diamond Mine began construction in 2000, (c) DeBeers Ltd. Snap Lake mine began construction in 2004, and (d), the very short winter season in 2006 resulted in more loaded trucks in the 2007 season.

There was a sharp decline in traffic in 2008 (e) associated with the economic slowdown followed by increase in traffic in 2011 (f) with more production at existing diamond mines and exploration work at DeBeers Ltd. Gacho Kue diamond project. 

    Other focal points

    • See WILDLIFE for anindicator on collisions with wildlife along NWT’s roads.
    • See LANDSCAPE CHANGES for an indicator on road access in NWT’s ecozones.


    Technical notes

    Average annual daily traffic (AADT), an estimate of the mean daily traffic for a period of one year was tracked as an indicator for this report in 2009.  Details for this indicator are available from Highway Traffic Annual Reports. The Department of Transportation has developed a set of indicators on road traffic and these are adopted for the State of the Environment report as of 2011.  

    For more information

    Contact us

    Found an error or have a question? Contact the team at NWTSOER@gov.nt.ca


    Ref 1: Northwest Territories Highway Traffic, 2011. NWT Transportation.