China will build at least 5,000 km of expressways this year, bringing the total length of expressways in the nation to almost 60,000 km by the year-end, Minister of Communications Li Shenglin said on Saturday.
There are currently 53,600 km of expressways traversing the country - the second longest in the world behind the United States, which has 89,000 km.
Last year, 8,300 km of new expressways were built and opened for use across the country, which is more than the total length of freeways in Japan (7,000 km), Li said at an annual working conference in Beijing.
Twenty-one provinces, municipalities and regions now have freeway networks longer than 1,000 km. Among them, Henan and Shandong provinces each have more than 4,000 km of freeways, while Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces each have between 3,000 and 4,000 km.
In the past five years, the country has built 28,000 km of freeways, almost equal to the combined total in Canada and Germany, which rank fourth and fifth in the world respectively in terms of the length of expressways built.
China plans to have 85,000 km of expressways by 2020.
Li said the authorities would invest more tax revenue on building rural roads this year, to link up more remote villages and make it easier for farmers to travel.
The minister said that the initial plan is to use 48 percent of funds raised by the vehicle purchase tax on building rural roads this year, up from 32 percent in 2005 and 44 percent last year.
Investment by the central government will also include money from the national budget and treasury bonds, but a detailed breakdown of the amounts involved has not yet been released.
About 270,000 km of roads will be either built or upgraded in rural areas this year with the investment, he said.
Last year, 423,000 km of rural roads were built or upgraded. Rural roads have reached 88 percent of all administrative villages and 98.5 percent of rural towns.
At present, Medog in the southeastern part of the Tibet Autonomous Region is the last county in China that does not have a highway.
The Ministry of Communications said it would start to construct the highway connecting Medog this year. Before a basic road was completed in 2006 allowing vehicles to run in good weather, travelers had to walk for four or five days across difficult terrain to go to the county.
China now has 3.57 million km of roads. A 35,000-km national highway system that comprises five north-south highway trunk roads and seven east-west trunk roads took shape at the end of last year, 13 years ahead of what was originally planned.
(China Daily January 7, 2008)