China Expressway System to Exceed US Interstates

This should be the year that China's intercity expressway system exceeds the length of the US interstate highway system. China's expressways are fully grade separated, freeway standard roadways, but unlike most interstate highways, have tolls.

The China Ministry of Transport indicates that, as of the end of 2010, China had 46,000 miles (74,000 kilometers) of expressways. Currently, the expressways of China have a total length about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) less than that of the US interstate highway system. In the last year, 5,500 miles (9,000 kilometers) of new expressways were completed. If that construction rate continues, China's expressway system would exceed the interstate system length late in the first quarter of 2011.

By 2020, China expects to have 53,000 miles (85,000 kilometers) of expressways. This compares to the US total of approximately 57,000 miles (92,000 kilometers), including non-interstate freeways. However, the China expressway mileage does not include the expressways administered by provincial level governments, such as in Beijing (with its five expressway ring roads), the extensive system of Shanghai and the expressways of Hong Kong. No data is readily available for the lengths of these roads.

Now it is possible to travel, uninterrupted (except for traffic jams in the vicinity of the largest urban areas), from north to south from near the Russian border, north of Harbin (in Heilongjiang or Manchuria) to near the resort island of Hainan, well south of Guangzhou, Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta and not far from the border with Viet Nam. This is a total distance of 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers).

East to west travel without signals is now possible from Shanghai to near the Myanmar (Burma) border, beyond Kunming, a distance of 1,800 miles (3,000 kilometers). In the longer run, it will be possible to travel from the Russian border in Manchuria to the border of Kazakhstan in Xinjiang, a distance of 3,500 miles (5,700 kilometers).

The expressway system is indicated in the map below. The blue the routes have been opened and the red routes are yet to be completed.