Traffic Forecasts

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Traffic Forecasts estimating potential commercial truck traffic for the Bridge, and the associated toll revenues, were produced by PROLOG Canada Inc., a Calgary-based consulting firm. Forecasts were produced in 2002, and again in 2006. 35-year estimates of commercial traffic and tonnage were produced in two scenarios; a "Conservative" forecast and a "Probable" forecast, based on different assumptions of mining and other economic activity.

As a note, while some of the forecast tables mention "one-way trips", and the tonnage figures are northbound, the "Trucks" numbers are actually two-way totals. You need to divide them in half to get the number of one-way trips (as mentioned in Appendix 13 of the Developer's Assessment Report from 2004. Raspberries to PROLOG for the confusion!

Components

Mine Resupply is the freight that is shipped north of Yellowknife on the Tibbitt-Contwoyto Winter Road for use by the various mining projects.

The Community Resupply portion of the forecasts covers the commercial traffic to the highway communities north of the Fort Providence ferry crossing.

Reports

PROLOG produced two reports for the GNWT, in 2002 and again in 2006. Both reports present two distinct forecast scenarios, called "Conservative" and "Probable". Both reports use a similar methodology, but the traffic projection figures differ given the addition four years of available data for the later report.

The "Conservative" report uses lower values for community growth, shorter lifetimes for some mines and assumes some planned projects from the "Probable" scenario (such as the Mackenzie Gas project) won't happen.

In general, the 2006 reports seem to run about 100,000 tonnes higher than the 2002 ones, reflecting both increased mining traffic and greater community resupply. The community numbers seem to have increased by about 10-15% in the actual data from 2002=2006, providing a higher base for the 2006 report, and about 30-40% of the additional tonnage. The rest comes from increased mine resupply - the value used in the 2006 Conservative estimate is about 65,000 tonnes higher than the 2002. Some of this is presumably the Jericho diamond mine, which was new to the 2006 report; unfortunately it ceased operating in 2008.

Revenue Implications

Tolls charged to commercial vehicles crossing the Bridge are to be a major component in its finances. Unfortunately, the recession beginning in 2008 has seriously affected the freight volumes on the Fort Providence crossing. Although the community resupply portion is still tracking the PROLOG forecast (after a spike in 2007 and 2008), the same can't be said for the mine resupply side of things. The winter road traffic at 121,000 tonnes for 2010 was close to a record low for the last 10 years, with 2009 not being much better. Some of this will be due to the closure of the Jericho mine, the rest to reductions by the other operating mines and vastly reduced exploration activity. The 2006 Conservative forecast using 352,000 tonnes as the mine resupply value, a figure that has never been achieved even in the ice road's best year (330,000 tonnes in 2007). Even the lower value from the 2002 forecast (287,500 tonnes) has only been achieved once.

Mine freight rebounded to 241,000 tonnes for 2011, and the 2012 season looks to be in a similar range.

Future forecasts

It is hard to get a sense of the baseline freight needs for the mines, since in recent years the numbers have been shrunk by the economic conditions, and some of the traffic may be shorter-term effects like the construction related to Diavik's move to underground mining. But 250,000 tonnes may be a decent estimate for the next couple of years.

Future mining events may produce significant changes in mining traffic, and thus in bridge tolls. The proposed Gahcho Kue diamond mine is in the regulatory process. If approved and a decision is made to go ahead with it, there could be around 11 years of additional traffic starting as early as 2015. There is also a potential gold mine ("Courageous Lake") which, should it ever be build, would be another large source of mine traffic. The dormant Jericho diamond mine may also restart production.

On the other side, the existing diamond mines have limited lifespans. The Ekati mine is currently scheduled to close as early as 2018. While it is possible a few additional years will be squeezed out, the closure will mean a significant hit to mine traffic and thus bridge tolls. Diavik may close in the 2020-2025 timeframe, and Snap Lake current estimated life runs out around 2028. Without new mines to generate freight traffic over the Bridge, toll revenue would sink sharply as each mine closes.

Finally, the most significant component of mining traffic is diesel fuel, and much of this is used to generate electricity. Alternative sources of electricity for the mines would reduce traffic and tolls. Diavik is setting up a wind-turbine system in 2012 to generate a portion of its electricity, which will reportedly reduce diesel needs by 4 million litres. That's a fairly minor $25,000 hit to toll revenue. But if the Taltson hydro expansion should ever go ahead, and provide electricity to the mines, it might replace something like 100 million litres, which would reduce toll revenue by something like half a million dollars a year.

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