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April 12, 2021

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Hail world’s largest expressway network

ZHANG Kuihong, 79, still remembers the debates over the first national highway project on Chinese mainland back in 1984.

Zhang, deputy chief engineer of the construction on Hujia Expressway, was a special guest at an event last Tuesday next to the expressway.

“China Along the Expressways” kicked off a grand tour to celebrate the country’s expressway network — the largest in the world — spanning 160,000 kilometers. Journalists from state and local media have been invited to explore the economic, cultural and tourism development along the expressways.

It is hard to imagine that experts and engineers were so conservative back then that the first highway was almost not built.

“Many experts asked why we needed a 120-kilometer-per-hour expressway when most families didn’t have passenger cars and even those who did could only go 80 kilometers per hour,” Zhang recalled, standing at the original site of the Hujia Expressway that opened on October 31, 1988.

“The most difficult part of that construction was the clash of different views.”

Nobody asks that question anymore. In the past four decades, China has built an expressway network over mountains and across rivers that covers 99 percent of the nation’s cities with populations of 200,000 or more.

“The next step is to cover all cities and counties with populations of 100,000 or more by 2035,” Wang Songbo, deputy director of the Ministry of Transport’s comprehensive planning department, said at the event. “The development of digital infrastructure and smart transportation system is underway with lots of potential, such as real-time monitoring of traffic to help drivers and central control handle emergencies.”

According to Wang, expressway mileage accounts for about 3 percent of total road mileage in China but is responsible for more than half of freight transport.

The expressway network has been the backbone of development across the country. The Hujia Expressway is a perfect example. Zhang has witnessed its immediate and long-term benefits.

“I’m a native of Jiading District, and I’m proud to have been a part of the expressway construction team that helped make Jiading a sought-after area for investors,” he said.

The Hujia Expressway shortened that journey to only 30 minutes. Shortly after it opened in 1988, an industrial park opened in Jiading Town in Taopu, followed by tourism development in the town of Nanxiang, famous for xiaolongbao, Shanghai’s special steamed dumpling.

This development pattern can be seen across the nation, especially for remote counties and villages that can now fully realize their potential through better connections to the rest of the country.


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