The Department of Transportation was created on April 1, 1989 when several programs and responsibilities that were delivered by three different departments were consolidated to form the Department of Transportation. From the former Department of Public Works and Highways came the Planning, Engineering, Highway Operations and Marine Operations Divisions. Arctic Airports came from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs and Motor Vehicles joined from the Department of Government Services. The decision to create a Department of Transportation recognized the central role of transportation in the economic growth and development of the Northwest Territories.
The Department of Transportation is responsible for the planning, design, construction or reconstruction, acquisition, operation and maintenance of the public transportation infrastructure in the Northwest Territories, including community airports and docks and the highway system, pursuant to devolved authorities and/or Memoranda of Understanding between the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Federal Government and to regulate and license individuals and vehicles operating in the Northwest Territories.
The Directorate activity is responsible for the management of the Department of Transportation and to ensure consistent application of departmental policies, standards and procedures, and program delivery throughout the Northwest Territories. The Directorate is assisted in its management of the department by a Finance and Administration section, a Policy and Planning section and a regional office in Inuvik. The Finance and Administration section is responsible for the planning, forecasting, coordination and control of the department's financial requirements to ensure responsible budgetary, revenue and expenditure management. Its primary service is to advise managers in program administration. The Policy and Planning section advises the Directorate on transportation and public policy issues and is responsible for program planning within the department. The Directorate's key objectives are to increase northern and local employment and business development opportunities through the use of special approaches to the implementation of capital projects and maintenance programs. In addition, this activity negotiates with the Federal Government to implement on their behalf more of their transportation capital and maintenance projects to increase local and Northern involvement and to plan and provide administrative and management services with respect to information technology, financial management, personnel coordination, contract management and general administration. Furthermore, the Directorate coordinates the Department's involvement in national and international technical and scientific exchange programs and represents and advocates the interest of the Northwest Territories in national transportation legislation, policy, regulations and program planning. Due to the Government of the Northwest Territories commitment to decentralize the operations of the government, the Department of Transportation steadily extended and developed its regional presence and by 1994, it had established regional offices in all of the regional centers of the Northwest Territories. In 1993, the Marine Services Division was decentralized to Fort Simpson. Between 1996-1997, the Department was reorganized to reflect the changes that were brought about due to decentralization. At this time the Directorate Division was renamed Corporate Services to reflect the addition of a Regional Management section, Strategic Planning section, Environment Section and Engineering Design and Construction Section, which moved from the Transportation Engineering Division. In 2003-2004, a Communications and Public Affairs section was added to the Corporate Services Division.
The Transportation Engineering Division provides the Department with engineering expertise and technical support required for planning, design and construction of transportation facilities. It is responsible for establishing engineering standards, conducting engineering studies, providing advisory services and cost estimates and undertaking design and project management for transportation infrastructure projects for highway, marine and air facilities. This Division also plans and manages related transportation development projects on behalf of other departments, agencies and the Federal Government. In addition, it participates in ongoing applied engineering research and participates in technology exchange involving the National Research Council, Canadian and International Transportation Associations and foreign circumpolar countries including Alaska, Greenland and Russia. This division also develops, implements and manages departmental policies and procedures for tendering, awarding and monitoring of contracts. Between 1996-1997, this division became part of the Corporate Services Division.
The Marine Services Division operated until 1996. It was responsible for the planning, operation and maintenance of vessels and support facilities at ferry crossings on the Northwest Territories highway system and for providing marine expertise in support of Departmental initiatives. This division also developed and implemented plans for the rehabilitation and replacement of ferry crossing infrastructure and vessels, identified and developed opportunities for the devolution of Federal Marine Programs and was involved with supporting the employment of northern and local residents and the use of local business in the operation and maintenance of marine services. Between 1996-1997, programs within this division were separated to form two divisions: the Ferries Division and the Community Marine Division. The Ferries Division assumed the responsibilities for provision of safe and reliable ferry crossing services on the Northwest Territories highway system. The division is also responsible for the maintenance, operation and upgrade of vessels and support facilities at five ferry crossings. The Community Marine Program provides marine facilities and safety programs in support of local harvesting, recreation and tourism in order to support and encourage the provision of regular, reliable and cost-effective marine resupply services. This division shares the responsibility for local community marine facilities and resupply facilities at communities with the Federal Government.
The Highway Operations Division is responsible for ensuring that the Northwest Territories highways are maintained to a level consistent with approved standards based on traffic use and to provide safe and reliable inter-community travel. This includes maintenance of the all-weather road network and the construction and maintenance of winter roads. In 1996-1997, this division was renamed the Highways Division. The division is responsible for maintenance, rehabilitation, and upgrading of 2200 kilometers of all-weather highways and 1300 kilometers of seasonal winter roads.
By agreement with Transport Canada, the Airports Division, formerly known as Arctic Airports, is responsible for airport development and operations for communities under the Arctic Airports Program. The program provides airport facilities and services in communities to encourage the development of regular and reliable air service throughout the Northwest Territories. Specialists at headquarters and in the regions provide advice and assistance to communities in the planning, operation and maintenance of airports. The division also arranges on-the-job training for community airport maintainers and training for observer/communicators. Airports are inspected to ensure compliance with Federal Government regulations. On behalf of Transport Canada, the Department, through local governments or contractors, manages and operates several airports. Program growth includes funding for the operating costs of new airport facilities and equipment provided in several communities. Municipal governments are encouraged to assume full responsibility for airport operations and maintenance, thereby assuring economic benefit and employment for local residents. This program is responsible for the maintenance, operation, and rehabilitation of all public airports in the Northwest Territories and for the provision of the Community Aerodome Radio Services (CARS). In the late 1990s the devolution of responsibilities from Transport Canada to DOT for Arctic 'A' airports (Yellowknife, Hay River, Norman Wells, Inuvik, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson, Cambridge Bay, Iqaluit and Resolute) was negociated, followed by the devolution of responsibilities of Arctic 'B' and 'C' airports, to the total of 54 airports in pre-division NWT.
The Motor Vehicles Activity is responsible for the administration of various Acts and Regulations, including the Motor Vehicles Act, which governs all matters relating to driver licensing, vehicle registration, driver examination and road safety. It also enforces trucking industry compliance with these Acts and Regulations, the intent being protection of the public, the environment and the Northwest Territories highway system. The sale of licenses and registration permits is handled by division staff and by private agency contracts throughout the Northwest Territories. Computerized central records are maintained of driver's licenses, vehicle registration, driver records, and abstracts are provided to insurance companies. This activity is also responsible for promoting public safety on the road and coordinating public awareness programs dealing with transportation issues. The Motor Vehicles Division was renamed the Road Licensing and Safety Division in 2002-2003 to reflect its connection with the Road Licensing and Safety Program. This program is responsible for reviewing and monitoring highway transportation legislation, regulations and policy of other governments, reviewing trends in highway transportation safety, technology development and change and identifying opportunities for partnership with other governments and industry in regulatory harmonization and implementation.
From 1992-1993 until 1996, the Highway Transport Board was part of the Department of Transportation. The Board was responsible for the regulation of the "for hire" segment of the bus and trucking industry through the issuance of licenses authorizing the transport of freight or passengers for compensation. The primary regulatory function of the Board was to achieve a safe, economic, efficient and adequate network of viable and effective road transportation services. The Board provided for the planning, development and implementation of administrative support programs, which met the needs of the Board. In addition, the Board conducted investigations, analyzed and presented data related to regulatory matters and developed internal policies and procedures for Board adoption that would further advance the transportation objectives for which the Board was responsible.
The Transportation Planning Division was formed in 1992-1993 and existed until 1996. This division was responsible for the development and promotion of transportation strategies in consultation with stakeholders; the preparation and implementation of Government of the Northwest Territories capital plans and programs for upgrading and expanding transportation infrastructure; representing and promoting Government of the Northwest Territories priorities with other agencies and coordinating Departmental needs for land management, environment studies and permits. This included preparation of planning studies, systems plans and modal plans for infrastructure upgrading and managing capital programs for airport development, highway reconstruction, road construction and community wharves. Furthermore, the division provided, coordinated and promoted Territorial Government priorities in Federal program areas and provided departmental standards, procedures and expertise in environmental affairs and in land acquisition, management and disposal. Between 1996-1997, the planning function of this division became part of the Corporate Services Division. However, the Community Access Road Division emerged from the Transportation Planning Division. This Division provided access roads and trails to local attractions in support of tourism, resource harvesting and recreation opportunities. This division also provides funding and technical assistance to communities in construction and maintenance of local access roads.
On April 1, 2017, the Department of Transportation consolidated with the Department of Public Works and Services to create the new Department of Infrastructure.