The first section of the Shin-Tomei Expressway opened on April 14 in Shizuoka Prefecture, a 162-km stretch between Gotenba and Mikkabi junctions. The expressway will eventually link Tokyo and Nagoya when it is completed in 2020. The Shin Tomei runs through areas that are about 10 km more inland than the Tomei Expressway, currently the primary roadway linking Tokyo and Nagoya.
Hugging the coast for some of its length, the Tomei is vulnerable to strong tremors, tsunamis and high tides. The 3/11 earthquake and tsunami caused the temporary closure of a section of the Tomei between the Fuji and Shimizu interchanges in Shizuoka Prefecture. The Shin Tomei’s Gotenba-Mikkabi section will serve as a vital detour if the Tomei is damaged by a major earthquake or tsunami, preventing a situation in which trunk traffic routes connecting eastern and western Japan are paralyzed due to a major disaster. The Shin Tomei is also designed to better cope with emergencies. It has heliports at 12 places, compared with just two on the Tomei.
According to a survey by Central Nippon Expressway Co. and the Chubu Regional Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry, whose results were made public April 11, 51 percent of the enterprises surveyed said that they are looking forward to using the Shin Tomei when traffic jams or accidents occur on the Tomei. Many enterprises also noted that existing routes tend to have heavy traffic jams on a regular basis. Forty-nine percent of enterprises surveyed said that they think the Shin Tomei will serve as a useful detour when disasters shut down existing routes.
Central Nippon Expressway Co. said that with the opening of Shin Tomei’s Gotenba-Mikkabi section the traffic volume between Gotenba and Mikkabi will increase from the current 74,000 vehicles a day (using the Tomei alone) to 83,000 vehicles a day (using both the Tomei and the Shin Tomei), increasing revenue by ¥9 billion a year.
While the Shin Tomei’s usefulness is undeniable, vehicles traveling from Nagoya to Tohoku after the Shin Tomei’s completion will likely get caught up in terrible traffic jams on Tokyo’s Metropolitan Expressway. Therefore, the improvement of expressways in the Tokyo metropolitan area will become all the more important to ensure that traffic flows smoothly through the nation’s capital to points beyond.