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Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 13:12 GMT
New road links Beijing and Shanghai
Route of new highway
By Duncan Hewitt in Shanghai

China's longest highway, connecting the capital Beijing to Shanghai, has opened to traffic.

The completion of the 1,200 km road, at a cost of $4.7bn, is a major plank in the government's plans to create an efficient national transport network.

Officials have hailed the opening as a major boost to economic growth, saying it would reduce congestion on the route between the country's most important cities

The project, which began 13 years ago, links the capital, Beijing, to the nearby port of Tianjin, before heading south to Shanghai.

It is a significant step forward for a nation which before the 1990s had virtually no fast roads.

Competition for rail and air

The new highway forms part of a fast expanding network linking major cities.

It is almost twice as long as the previous longest expressway between Beijing and the north-eastern city of Shenyang, which opened in September.

Train in China
China's trains have been losing ground

China's Minister of Communications, quoted in the China Daily newspaper, said the road would stimulate competition with rail and air transport.

He said drivers would now be able to travel from Beijing to Shanghai in 13 hours, one hour quicker than by the fastest train.

China's railways have raised speeds three times in the past three years in an attempt to win back dissatisfied customers.

Yet almost any major journey still requires an overnight trip.

High speed rail link

In a potentially radical move, officials last week announced plans to spend $12bn on a high speed rail link from Beijing to Shanghai, which would cut the journey time by more than 70%, to just four hours.

Yet, with the government seeking to promote private car ownership and almost a third of urban families reportedly hoping to buy a car in the next five years, China's road network is likely to continue to grow.

A new standardised car tax to be introduced next year will be used to fund the construction of more roads linking remoter regions of western China to the east of the country.

Yet many drivers remain dissatisfied at the high level of fees and tolls on such roads.

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17 Nov 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
China's changing face
17 Nov 00 | Asia Pacific
China's environmental challenge
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