After more than 40 years and 1,100 km, the Trans-Labrador Highway is finished

A worker wearing an orange safety jacket uses a rake over loose asphalt.
A worker rakes asphalt to the remaining spots on the Trans Labrador Highway at Cartwright Junction on Tuesday. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

After decades of construction, the Trans-Labrador Highway — a gigantic infrastructure project that allows vehicles to drive from western Labrador to the Strait of Belle Isle — has been paved. 

Work on the 1,149-kilometre road was started in the early 1980s, with segments of the highway completed in phases. 

On Tuesday, at Cartwright Junction, workers used rakes to smooth out asphalt, finally joining two distinct parts of the highway. 

Communities in the south coast began connecting to the highway while it was a grid road in the 1990s and early 2000s. Lisa Dempster, the minister responsible for Labrador Affairs, remembers the day her coastal hometown of Charlottetown was connected. 

“We got connected to the outside world, Dec. 10, 2001, in my community. And that was a significant, monumental day for us as well,” said Dempster.

“It was a game changer in how we lived.”

Dempster said the completion of the highway was the result of a number of people advocating for the paving for decades. She said local residents’ patience was growing thin in recent years but the pandemic and ferries being delayed due to high winds played a role in the delay.

Less than 100 metres from where the pavement was sealed Tuesday lies the gravel Cartwright Access Road.

GALLERY |Take a look at how the highway looked through the years through audience photographs: 

It’s one of many access roads in the south coast that remain unpaved.

Dempster said the province has competing priorities but she is going to focus on another transportation strategy for Labrador. 

Next: feasibility of a north coast road 

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Elvis Loveless said it was a proud moment to see the pavement pieces joined. He said a larger celebration is being planned for the fall.

Even though the highway is now paved, Labrador will continue to be a priority for the department, Loveless said. 

Dark pavement is contrasted with lighter pavement, showing the difference between older and newer aphalt.
New pavement meets previously laid asphalt at Cartwright Junction on the Trans-Labrador Highway. Paving finished for this section of road on Tuesday. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

“Believe me, I can say with a lot of confidence that Labrador is not on the back burner now, before and moving forward,” he said. 

The province is completing a pre-feasibility study of the possibility of a road to the north coast. Loveless said they’re finalizing consultations and determining the scope of it and hoping to release that later this summer. 

The pavement was a welcome sight for Lynn and Tom Agnew, two tourists from Pine Valley, Ont. Driving into Labrador through northern Quebec, they said the dirt road on the Quebec highway was tougher on their camper and took more time than Labrador’s paved highway. 

A highway worker, two ministers and two tourists pose for a photograph with a Labrador flag.
Flagger Thelma Sampson (from left), MHA Lisa Dempster, Lynn Agnew, Tom Agnew, Transportation Minister Elvis Loveless. The two ministers presented a Labrador flag to the first couple to drive across the highway. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

“The roads have been just unbelievable,” Tom Agnew said. 

“Everybody’s so nice,” Lynn Agnew said.

“We even got offered to come and do our laundry at someone’s house in Labrador City and offered to have showers. It’s just. People are so great, so it’s awesome,” she said. “Marvellous.” 

A group photograph was put together by the provincial government to show the workers at the highway when it was finished being paved.
Highway workers, officials and Cartwright residents gathered Tuesday to celebrate the end of the construction project. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

The two received a Labrador flag from the provincial government for being the first to drive over the new pavement. Lynn Agnew said while it’s her first time in the Big Land, she hopes other tourists drive through. 

“Don’t miss it. It’s worth the drive,” she said. 

“We are just now being discovered,” Dempster said. “We have hundreds of kilometres of vast, unspoiled territory. We have what the rest of the world is wanting to see. And we’re just now getting our infrastructure in place and getting open for business.” 

WATCH | From our archives, see stories on the early stages of work on the Trans-Labrador Highway: 

The long and winding road

The Trans-Labrador Highway has been 40 years in the making, and now it’s finally done. Take a look at these archive stories from when work on the road began.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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