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Background Information on National Trunk Roads

The Ministry of Communications

December 18, 2007

1. Background for the development of National Trunk Road Plan

In the early years of opening-up and reform, the fast growth of national economy brought about the sharp rise in the transport demands. Due to the backwardness of transport infrastructure, transportation was under tense pressure with severe inadequate transport capacity, which aggravated its bottleneck constraints on the national economic development. Such bottleneck constraints were seen in the severe traffic jam on most trunk roads, urban accesses and port congestions in the coastal areas. In order to alleviate traffic jam, the transport sector carried out bold trials, i.e. widening Class-II roads and building Class-I roads, which went some way to the resolution of the traffic congestion. However, the problems such as the frequent occurrence of traffic accidents and mixed traffic still left unresolved and trunk road transport still cannot adapt to the economic and social development of the country.

In order to reform the backwardness of transport industry, the State Council in 1984 introduced three policies, namely, levying vehicle purchase surcharge, increasing tariff rate of road maintenance fee and building road by loans and repaying loans by tolls, placed the development of transport as top priority so as to expand the funding sources for transport infrastructure development. Against this background, how to make use of these funds to expeditiously address the predominant problem in the transport development and to lift the bottleneck constraints of transport on the national economic development became the major challenges facing the transport industry in those days.

In pursuance of the three-step strategic goal in the drive for the socialist modernity and strategic deployment for economic development, and in response to the major problems in the road and water transport at that time, while taking into account the experience of transport development in developed countries and features of huge investment and long cycle for the construction of transport infrastructure, the Ministry of Communications thought it necessary to work out a scientific, long-term development plan to transform the backwardness of road and water transport industry making them keep up with the social and economic development. On the basis of foreign experience and consultations with local governments, the Ministry of Communications in September 1988 clearly put forward the strategic vision of developing the great national transport corridor, the great national transport framework and the great transport hub. The Ministry of Communications has replaced great transport framework, great transport corridors and great transport hubs with major transport framework, major transport corridors and major transport hubs, set out the essence of the long-term plan for the development of road and water transport. Under the guidance of developing integrated transport system as the key objective, it will take a few 5-year periods starting from the eighth-five-year plan to put in place major road framework, major water transport corridors and major port hubs through overall planning, central and local administration, tiered responsibility so as to adapt to the national social and economic development needs. As regards major road framework, after discussions among experts, the Ministry of Communications decided to name it national trunk road system and commissioned the drafting of the Plan for the National Trunk Road System.

2. Development and implementation of the National Trunk Road Plan

Development of the Plan

Analysis was made on the scale, layout and implementation of national trunk road system in the light of the productivity, urban and demographic distribution and economic level of different localities as well as the principle of connecting the Capital city Beijing, provincial capital cities, administrative cities, special economic zones, major transport hubs, ports open to foreign trade and all large cities with a population of over 1 million and most cities with a population of 500,000 so as to finalize the Plan for the Layout of Five North-South and Seven East-West Trunk Road Lines (including branches).

Under that Plan, the total length of National Trunk Road System would amount to 34,422 km, among which expressways is 25,765 km, Class-I roads 1479 km, Class-II roads 7178 km, accounting for 74.85 percent, 4.3 percent and 20.85 percent respectively. Considering the investment to road construction and construction standards at that time, the Plan set out the completion of the network by 2020.

The Plan runs as follows:

Five North-South Lines, namely:

Tongjiang - Sanya (including the branch of Hunchun-Changchun )

Beijing – Fuzhou (including the branches of Tianjin – Tanggu and Tai'an – Huaiyin)

Beijing – Zhuhai

Erlianhaote – Hekou

Chongqing – Zhanjiang

Seven East-West Lines

Suifenhe – Manzhouli

Dandong – Lhasa (including the branch of Tangshan - Tianjin )

Qingdao – Yinchuan

Lianyungang – Horgos

Shanghai – Chengdu (including the branch of Nanchong - Chengdu )

Shanghai – Ruili (Including the branch of Ningbo – Hangzhou - Nanjing )

Hengyang – Kunming (including the branch of Nanning - Youyiguan)

The Plan was approved by the State Council in 1992 and published in June 1993


The national trunk road construction has undergone 4 major stages: namely the initial stage prior to the introduction of the Plan, full-scale construction stage since the publication of the Plan, accelerated construction stage since 1998 and all-round closing stage since 2003. The construction of the parts of the national trunk road system were initiated in the late mid 1980's. The construction during this period centred on the contruction of road sections connecting provincial capital cities and main large cities. Since the launch of the Plan in 1992, the national trunk road construction has proceeded at a stable and orderly pace. By the end of 1997, the country's expressway had reached 4771 km, 70 percent of which was the sections of national trunk road.

In order to respond to the financial crisis of the South-east Asia , the State Council in 1998 made critical decision of accelerating infrastructure development to boost domestic demands, to accelerate road development is one of the important measures. In June 1998, the Ministry of Communications proposed to accelerate the construction of two East-West lines, two North-South lines and three key road sections, to gradually step up the construction of road sections with heavy traffic density and to build North-South and East-West road corridors under the Plan for National Trunk Road System. The construction of national trunk roads was hence on the fast track, the construction rate jumped from the previous average of 1000 km to over 2500 km. By 2001, the expressways open to traffic exceeded 19,000 km in the country, ranking the second in the world next to the U.S.

When the new leaders of the Ministry took office in the beginning of 2003, they reported the construction of the national truck roads to the State Council, the salient elements were as follows: first, by the end of 2002, 80 percent of the national trunk road system was completed, continued construction was proposed so as to finalize construction of 35,000 km of national trunk roads by 2007; Secondly, the scale, standards of national trunk road system were not in keeping with the needs for building a moderately prosperous society across the board. In order to harmonize the future expressway development, improve service quality, ensure the prudent exploitation of resources and prevent arbitrary investment and simple duplicated construction, there was a compelling need to plan the national expressway network on the basis of the plan for the national trunk road system. The report was supported and confirmed by the leaders of the State Council and it was also established that the national trunk road would be put in place 13 years ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, Premiere Wen Jiabao required the national expressway network plan once completed be submitted for approval by the State Council. By the end of 2006, 32207 km of national trunk road system was constructed, accounting for 93.6 percent of the planned length, the rest is still under construction and will be completed by the end of 2007.

3. The Significance, Characteristics and Effect of the Plan for the National Trunk Road System

The Significance of the Plan

On the basis of extensive investigation, the plan for the national trunk road system, developed in a scientific way and with thorough analysis, is expected to serve as the backbone of the national road transportation network. This plan provides effective solutions to the issues on the layout of the major national road transportation routes, timing for the routes construction as well as the construction standards, guaranteeing that the layout plan of the trunk road matches with that of the productivity and population, the construction sequence matches with the demand of social and economic development as well as the construction standards matches with the traffic demand. All these have made the decision-making process on road construction more scientific.

This plan also provides basis for the construction of provincial trunk roads to avoid arbitrariness and rashness of the investment and construction of projects, which helps to remove the administrative interference, improve benefits from the investment and scale of road network, and ensure the provincial interconnectivity of national trunk roads and scientific sequencing of construction work.

The valuable experience gained from the construction of national trunk road system further improves the pre-feasibility study, project feasibility study and initial construction design from the theoretical, methodological and technical aspects. The enhancement of the road management system and construction techniques promotes the scientific development of the transportation sector as a whole.

The Characteristics of the Plan

This plan was brought into birth at the early stage of the adoption of the reform and opening up policy to meet the need of transportation sector development for national social and economic growth. This plan aims at, by focusing on the construction of major intercity transportation routes, important access to the cities and ports of the developed coastal areas, addressing to the largest extent possible the bottleneck constraints of transportation development within limited financial resources. It has proved that the scale, layout, standards and sequence of construction of this plan meet the demand of the social and economic development.

The national trunk road plan, as a long-term plan for national road network construction, was the first of its kind ever developed on the basis of profound analysis and scientific demonstration. In the light of the conditions of the development of national economy and transportation sector, breakthrough was made and new measures taken in the planning ideas, principles and methods. It provides innovative solution to the issues as to what kind of roads to be constructed and how to construct them. Practice proved that this plan has effectively solved the traffic congestions on the trunk roads. It is a rewarding trial on the construction of national road network with Chinese characteristics.

The remarkable achievements made in the national highway construction are highly attributable to this national trunk road system plan. Against the background of the drastic change of the national social and economic development, plans for almost all sectors either long and medium term or five-year have been adjusted greatly to meet the new situations. However, the fact that this national trunk road system plan remains unchanged for 20 years till completely implemented, fully demonstrates its high quality and foresight.

The Effect of the Plan

The total length of the national trunk road system is about 35,000 kilometers, running through the national capital, provincial capitals, administrative cities, special economic zones, major transport hubs as well as ports open to foreign trade. It connects 203 out of 467 cities nationwide in 1990, accounting for 43 percent of the total, and covers a population of about 600 million, accounting for 55 percent of the total national population and 70 percent of the total national urban population respectively. It also connects all the mega-cities nationwide each with a population of over 1 million and 93 percent of the large cities each with a population of over 50,000.

4. The National Trunk Road System Promotes the National Economic and Social Development

Promoting the National Economic Development

As the main structure of the national road network, the national trunk road system serves as the express transportation routes linking the major economic zones, which has greatly driven the national economic development by facilitating the mobility of production factors and optimizing the distribution of resources. Since the outbreak of the Asian financial crisis in 1998, the road construction with focus on the national trunk road system has significantly contributed to the expansion of domestic market and promotion of national economic growth. In addition to fuel the national GDP growth, the investment in national trunk road system construction also drove the development of relevant sectors.

The national trunk road system drives the economic growth not only by boosting the investment during its construction, but more importantly by its operation. The construction of the national trunk road system alleviates the transportation bottlenecks to improve the traffic efficiency and capacity, thus providing a more secure guarantee for the sustainable development of the national economy. By linking the major economic development areas nationwide, the national trunk road system improves the optimal layout and upgrading of the industries for promoting the regional economic development in a coordinated way. In addition, the national trunk road system mainly composing of highways provides a faster, safer, more convenient and cost-effective transportation service, enhancing the reliability and efficiency of road transportation, reducing the cost for goods production and delivery as well as improving the price competitiveness of the domestic goods in the global market, as a result to create a favorable environment for the rapid development of export economy and further involvement in the international competition.

Improving the Social Progress

The construction of the national trunk road system has greatly improved the transportation infrastructure of the regions along the trunk road, further strengthening the functions and features of counties and towns as well as their capabilities to accommodating larger population, which has greatly facilitated the urbanization process. The construction of the national trunk road system has not only created thousands of job opportunities either directly or indirectly, but also accelerated the exploration and utilization of the tourism resources to boost the rapid development of tourism. The operation of the national trunk road system provides the entire public with an equal access to the transportation facilities to visualize the equality in sharing the road transportation resources. The national trunk road system, which is stable, safe and reliable, is a road transportation network with large traffic capacity and quick response capability. It is of vital importance to the national economy and defense.

Enhancing People's Living Standards

The national trunk road system provides the public with a better road transportation system by improving the road infrastructure, saving time, reducing cost and improving the convenience and safety of the public transportation, which enables people to enjoy a safer, more comfortable, cost-effective and convenient road transportation service. The national trunk road system also improves people's living standards and quality in various aspects.

Contributing to the Nation's Sustainable Development

Generally speaking, trunk roads are of larger traffic capacity, faster in speed and more consistent in operation than ordinary roads. The construction of the national trunk road system mainly composing of highways plays an important role in the intensive use of land, rational utilization of resources and protection of environment, which has greatly enhanced the nation's capability for a sustainable development.

(China Development Gateway December 18, 2007)

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