Panel advises the more expressway traffic the better

A government panel wants to boost the use of the nation’s expressways, citing such benefits as fewer traffic accidents on other roads and reduced emissions of greenhouse gases, a draft proposal showed Friday.

The Land, Infrastructure and Transportation Ministry panel, led by University of Tokyo professor Hitoshi Ieda, wants the expressway utilization rate to reach 20 percent of total traffic volume, as in Britain and France, from the 13.1 percent reported in fiscal 2003.

If more drivers used expressways, fewer long-distance trucks would share regular roads with pedestrians and cyclists, reducing the number of traffic fatalities by 400 a year, according to the draft proposal.

In addition, driving at high speeds on expressways increases fuel efficiency and cuts emissions of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases.

In the draft proposal, the panel calls on the government to extend expressways operated by Japan Highway Public Corp. and prefectural authorities to 20,000 km by adding an additional 5,000 km over 10 years.

The draft proposal projects that the expressway utilization rate would reach 15 percent in 10 years once the additional expressways are built.

To eventually reach the 20 percent level, the draft proposes the government focus on upgrading unconnected segments of expressways and introduce flexible tolls for regular commuters and nighttime users.