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Traffic jams likely after toll cut

Tomorrow may be a day to celebrate for the 200,000 commuters who each day use the Shanghai-Jiading Expressway, the A12, as the long-awaited free or reduced tolls come into effect.

That number is sure to quickly soar as commuters are drawn by the cheaper toll on the only express route between the suburban Jiading District and downtown.

The downtown to Nanxiang section of the expressway will be toll-free for cars while the fare on the rest of the road will be 5 yuan (73 US cents). Buses will now use the road toll free. The toll used to be 10 yuan for buses and cars.

But "freedom comes at a cost," with the highway manager saying the cheaper toll will increase congestion on the road, especially in rush hours.

The 20-kilometer road has three toll booths -- one at either end -- and one mid-way in Jiading's Nanxiang Town.

Currently, the road is one of Shanghai's busiest expressways, catering to 50,000 cars and buses daily as well as trucks, which still pay toll.

"Daily traffic flow will increase by 30 to 40 percent as a result of the cheaper toll," Dong Hui, from the Shanghai Highway Administration, told Shanghai Daily yesterday.

To ease congestion, the highway manager will implement measures to speed up traffic through the toll gates.

Drivers between downtown and Nanxiang will just have to hand in the toll-free cards they pick up at the start of their journey, rather than waiting for their toll-settlement.

"The toll attendant on the other end only needs to take back the free-pass card to allow the vehicle through the toll gate,'' Dong said.

Jiading has long lacked quality road links to downtown even though residential complexes have sprouted up along the A12 and it houses the city's vehicle manufacturing center in Anting Town.

The Hu-Yi highway is the only other road between Jiading and downtown. The other road projects, including some elevated roads and the A17 Highway, will improve Jiading's access to downtown.

The Middle Ring Road and Outer Ring Road will also face increased congestion as they are connected to the toll-free section of the A12.

For several years lawmakers and car owners have been lobbying for the complete scrapping of tolls on the A12, which opened in 1988. The toll opponents claimed the government should have long recouped their investment in building the road and said tolling increased congestion by holding up the traffic.

"If the road is completely free of charge, it will turn into nothing less than an elevated parking lot,'' Dong said, noting that a government traffic study showed traffic would increase by 40 to 70 percent if the A12 was fully toll-free.


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