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People's Republic of China - Roads

The Ministry of Transport (MOT) in China is responsible for policy and regulation of all transport modes, except railways. The implementation of the transport programs is the responsibility of the 27 Provincial Transport Departments (PTD) and the transport bureaus for the four mega cities; Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai, and Tianjin (which have the status of a province). Investment in transport infrastructure in China has been massive. The US system is probably the only one in the world physically and financially of the same order as the Chinese.

China has similar size as the US, but the total length of freeway in China was around 131,000 km by the end of 2016, and the total length of the Interstate Highway System in the US is around 77,000 km . China built up 95% of the freeways in past 20 years, and most of the US freeways was built maybe 50 years ago. As of 2014, the total mileage of all categories of roads in China was around 5,000,000 km, which was No. 2 in the world, yet 43% of them were unpaved or semi-paved, and the pitched road accounted for only 19%.

Moving off the highways and urban areas and into the rural areas, the roads deteriorate - as rural roads everywhere generally do. Entering a hutong, for example, the roads might get a little bumpier, and the streets are very narrow and twisty and curvy. These roads are a lot of the time, from the Qing dynasty. They were built for foot traffic, and suck up bicycle traffic.

In the last years of the Empire, Chinese roads were numerous, but generally in a poor state of repair. More important commercially are the rivers and canals, by means of which native junks carried on an enormous amount of traffic. At the time of Kublia Khan, Marco Polo wrote of the "many roads leading to the different provinces, and upon each of these, that is to say, upon every great high road, at the distance of twenty-five or thirty miles, accordingly as the towns happen to be situated, there are stations, with houses of accommodation for travellers, called yamb or post-houses. These are large and handsome buildings, having several well-furnished apartments, hung with silk, and provided with everything suitable to persons of rank."

In the dim past some roads must have resembled old Roman roads, judging from stone blocks and bits of pavement that were occasionally seen scattered about. Except for a few courier roads and those in the environs of certain large cities, notably Peking, where some fine new ones had recently been built, by the early 20th Century most of China's roads were nothing but foot-paths. The upkeep of all but the courier roads was left to the farmers, but why, reason these tillers of the soil, should they spend time and strength in repairing them, when others will reap the benefit? And why make the roads wide, since the wider they are, the more land must be sliced off the farms that adjoin? If a farmer in carrying his produce to market found it convenient at times to drive his mules over his neighbors' fields and so tramples down their grain, his neighbors in turn drove their mules over his fields, so they were quits.

Some roads where the earth had been washed of blown or dug away were considerably below the level of the adjacent farms, and in wet weather became flooded and impassable. Others were the dykes between paddy fields, and when it rained were so muddy and slippery, that to walk over them safely required the skill of an acrobat. Traveling by sedan-chair over the narrow roads was at times a highly exhilarating experience, as when in crossing a dyke one sees approaching a long line of pack-mules with bulging panniers, and knows full well that if one party or the other is to be pushed off into the wet rice-field it will not be the pack-mules.

Ruts were axle deep. In places the very road itself had eaten into the ground until it was like a great ditch, thirty feet deep in places, and for miles so narrow that one cart cannot pass another. In the dry season these gullies were dust holes in which a horseman cannot see his horse's ears. When it rained they were rivers of mud where carts stick fast and defy the efforts of six and eight horses to move them, while a score of yelping carters strain and yell, sink waist deep in the mud and lash their beasts, and a hundred conveyances on errands of more or less importance stood waiting in line.

Fights for the right of way in these narrow road-ditches were common. When two strings of carts meet where there is no passing, turning or backing, the drivers of each group insist. that they shouted and cracked their whips to give warning and that the others came on heedlessly. There is a riot of strong language, then some one climbs the bank and punctuates his invective with rocks, and a general fight ensued.

A road continues to be a highway as long as four horses can drag a cart over it ,or a horse can keep his nose above the slime. When it was impossible, according to Chinese standards, which were very liberal indeed, then the adjacent field became the road. Stimulated by the loss of a belt of arable land from ten to twenty feet wide, the farmers swarmed out into the old highway and do what they can to make it passable. This did not mean that they did much; but the little they did inflated them with righteous satisfaction, and thereafter for some weeks they levied toll upon all who passed. Sitting by the way, they smoke their long pipes, gossip and philosophize until they were warned by the jingle of bells or the rumble of wheels that a traveller was coming. Then they leapt up at once and became frantically busy public benefactors, rolling stones hither and thither, throwing mud to the four winds, and shouting directions with the full strength of their lungs. When the traveller came along they straightened up reluctantly, wiped the honest sweat from their brows, and suggested that the stranger contribute a little something to the upkeep of a set of benevolent fellows who were neglecting their crops and families for the public weal.

Before 1988, when the first expressway opened to traffic, travel on China’s road network was arduous. The roads followed the terrain to keep earthworks and structures to a minimum. The pavement and traffic conditions were poor, so delays were often frequent. Expressways make far greater use of earthworks, bridges and tunnels to follow a more direct route, often significantly reducing the distances traveled and allowing higher speeds. Reduction in travel times, distances and vehicle operating costs resulted in considerable resource savings for consumers and producers.

Since 1990, the overall average growth in the Chinese road assets exceeded the overall growth in its GDP and helped to close the ‘infrastructure gap’ [the difference between the existing road asset base by road class and the asset base required by the econom] that existed at the beginning of the period. Since 1998 total expenditure on transport infrastructure exceeded 5% of GDP, of which roads accounted for about 3.5%.

The current National Expressway Network (NEN) plan has been built upon the previous 1992 “5-vertical 7-horizontal” Expressway Trunk Network and now responds to the so-called 7-9-18 plan. This includes seven corridors radiating from Beijing, nine north-south corridors, and 18 east-west corridors.

By 2050, China's road network will cover over four million kilometers, compared to the current 1.7 million kilometers, and the quality of road transportation will be on a par with that of developed countries, Vice Minister of Communications Hu Xijie said on 22 October 2002. Hu was outlining the development of China's road transportation network in the first half of the 21st century in his address to the 2002 China Road Transportation Development Forum (CRTDF).

According to Hu, by the middle of the 21st century, China will have implemented a three-step plan to expand the existing road network and to develop a road transportation network emphasizing safety, speed, steady flow of traffic and high efficiency. According to this plan, by 2010, China's road network will be on a par with its social and economic development, with roads extending to two million kilometers and highways reaching 35,000 kilometers. Also by this date, China will have basically eliminated the traffic jam, and an "intelligent" communications system will be widely applied.

Between 2010 and 2020, China's road network will continue to expand in line with growth of demand, with the network reaching 2.5 million kilometers, including 70,000 kilometers of highways. From 2020 to the middle of the 21st century, China will improve the quality of its road transportation to that of an average developed country, meeting the needs of public transportation not only in terms of quantity, but also quality. By 2050, the length of the road network will top four million kilometers, with highways exceeding 75,000 kilometers.

From 1990 to 2005, during the period of the 8th, 9th and 10th Five-Year Plans, China completed nearly 41,000 km of tolled expressways, the main portion of which comprised the National Trunk Highway System (NTHS). The NTHS will be further expanded to the National Expressway Network (NEN) of 85,000 km. During that period approximately 400,000 km of local and township roads werealso improved. This unprecedented expansion in the expressway network wasaccompanied by the continuing development of intermediate Class I and II roads.

China’s spending was on the same order of magnitude as that in the USAand Japan when they were developing their expressway networks. In the USA expenditure increased to reach a level of US$80-100 billion per five years by the late 1960s (the third five-year period) and stabilized in that range throughout the following three decades. In Japan the expenditure was at lower levels in the first 25 years but soared in its seventh 5-year period to around US$150 billion.

The weakest aspect of the expressway planning process lies intheir interfacing with other roads. In some instances, expresswayinterchanges have been constructed to an unimproved Class III or Class IV road. In others the locations have been selected without adequate consultation withthe local authorities to make sure they are compatible with local plans.

Assuming the average cost of one km of highway at US$5 million, the total cost for the next phase of the NEN construction will be on the order of US$225 billion. If spread evenly over 20 years, this would mean that around US$11 billion will be required to build 2,250 km of new expressway every year.

Presently, in China, there is strong commitment to a local roads development program from researchers, investment banks, IFIs and senior policy organs of the National Government. The consistent view is that the investment inlocal road capacity will spur development of rural areas, thus reducing both the rural-urban and the inter-regional inequities, particularly between eastern and western provinces. While the commitment to the local road development program is widespread, the financing of the program will rest largely on the shoulders of the provincial and county jurisdictions.

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Page last modified: 24-06-2018 18:46:22 ZULU