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Free expressways busier, but not everyone happy

Date Posted: 2010-07-08

Drivers on 50 sections of 37 Japanese expressways are more than happy with the toll free status of those roadways now, but the majority of Japanese companies think it’s all a bad idea that should be reversed after Sunday’s House of Councilors election.

Traffic on the Okinawa Expressway is up 34% since the June 28th inception of toll free travel. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism says it studied the Ginoza – KinTown stretch of expressway, where cars increased from 25,600 to 34,400 cars. Included in the survey was the first weekend in which travel was free, and ministry officials say the expressway was jammed, with cars backed up to enter and exit every interchange. At Nago City’s Kyoda IC exit, travel stretched two kilometers back from the toll booths between 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.

NEX Company, West Japan Okinawa Management Office, said, though, “the highway was more crowded than on normal weekends, but there weren’t too much traffic jams.” An exception was at the Kitanakagusuku area IC, where a broken down car blocked a traffic lane causing 4-4½ kilometer backups in the northbound direction.

In mainland Japan, where the other 49 sections of 36 expressways are operating toll free, ministry officials say traffic has increased 67%, up from an average 11,100 cars to 18,500.

At the same time, a poll by Teikoku Databank Ltd., shows that 57.1 of the nation’s companies are displeased with the free expressways policy, and want the government to reverse it next week, after the House of Councilors election is complete. The finding was the largest response to the survey question about what the government should change after the election, far ahead of 46.7% who wanted an end to childbirth and child support, including child allowances. Some 30.1% of respondents wanted the government to forget about imposing a new consumption tax rate.

The survey is a harsh rejection of the government’s expressways pilot program launched June 28th. The pilot program is to run through next March, but the DPJ-led government says it intends to fulfill a campaign promise to rid all Japanese expressways of toll booths. The survey also found 85% of those polled wanting the government to continue slashing wasteful spending, while a call for corporate tax reductions was backed by 71.2% of those answering the databank’s poll. A total of 11,257 companies responded to the survey conducted during the last ten days of June.

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