China's Expanding Motorways

In some ways, it has been an "annus horribilis" for transport in China (Note). There was the tragic high-speed rail accident in Wenzhou (Zhejiang), the fastest trains were slowed, construction was slowed or, in some cases stopped, and a top railway official was removed for misappropriation of at least a billion Yuan (more than $150 million).

However, China's freeway (motorway) system has achieved a milestone even Deng Xiaoping might have dreamed. In 2011, The Beijing Review reports that China's intercity freeway system became the longest in the world, longer that of the United States, which had been the undisputed leader for at least 50 years.

China added 11,000 kilometers (7,000 miles) of freeway (grade separated and dual carriage expressway) to its national interstate expressway system (National Trunk Highway System) in 2011. With a length of 85,000 kilometers (53,000 miles), China's intercity freeway system exceeds that of the US interstate highway system by 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles). At the end of 2008, the US interstate highway system was 75,000 miles long.

China has built 83,000 kilometers (52,000 miles) of interstate freeway in just 11 years. Much of the US interstate construction was completed over a period of 25 years, from 1956 to the early 1980s.

It is unclear whether the total length of freeways in China is greater than that in the United States. In China, many urban freeways are not included in the National Trunk Highway System. There are also non-interstate freeways in the United States.  Complete data on these roadways is not available.

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Note: This characterization of a "horrible year" was made famous by Queen Elizabeth II in a major speech in 1992.

See also: China Expressway System to Exceed US Interstates, January 21, 2011.

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