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January 5, 2012

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New traffic congestion hits roads

DRIVERS are expected to face extreme congestion this month cruising local roads due to a combination of cold weather, the Spring Festival travel peak and changes caused by major road projects, said the city's traffic watchdog.

One bottleneck may be caused by the end of toll collection on the S5 Expressway, the oldest toll highway on the Chinese mainland.

In response to mounting appeals that lasted almost a decade, the government announced an end to the tolls starting January 1. The road authority fears the big "toll-free" attraction will push up traffic by 40 percent during some extreme peaks.

The prediction was borne out by long lines of sedans, buses and trucks yesterday morning on S5 on the first work day since the toll removal. The Shanghai Highway Administration said traffic started to peak about 7:40am and soon vehicles were seen backed up for more than 1 kilometer in front of the entry booths. Traffic pressure did not ease until 9am, the authority said. The evening rush period arrived at 4pm yesterday, creating a more than 2-kilometer car queue before the entries.

"Though not of an extremely serious level, the fare removal did have an obvious influence on traffic today," said Dong Hui, an official with the administration.

As more out-of-town vehicles are attracted to the suddenly free expressway, nearby local roads will also be placed under heavier pressure. Traffic between the Outer Ring Road and Qilianshan Road, for example, is projected to suffer the heaviest influence.

Some links diverting traffic from the highway to other parts of the city such as Fengxiang Road and Bao'an Road will also see more traffic, authorities estimate.

The highway authority advised local commuters to take detours to avoid traffic jams along S5, which may last months.

Although drivers don't need to pay toll fees anymore, they must still stop at the toll booths on both ends of the highway to collect and return an empty pass card, a situation that will last until March.

The demolition and eventual rebuilding of downtown Jiangning Road Bridge across Suzhou Creek will cause additional problems during the festival travel peak, local traffic authorities said.

As a result, heavier jams are expected on downtown Changde Road and Changhua Road.


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