The Transport Ministry will review Narita airport in Chiba Prefecture and Tokyo’s Haneda Airport with an eye to possible construction of a third airport in the metropolis, newly appointed Transport Minister Hajime Morita said.
“Even after (current) construction to expand its runway is completed, Narita airport will eventually reach capacity. Debate on a third airport will then emerge,” Morita, who assumed his post when the new Cabinet was formed last week, said in a recent interview with reporters.
Morita, who is from Tottori Prefecture and once served as a Finance Ministry bureaucrat, said another option is to allow Haneda airport, which mainly handles domestic flights, to take on international flights.
Japan’s business leaders have called on the government to open up Haneda airport to international flights, but local governments in Chiba strongly oppose the idea.
Morita, however, stressed that nothing concrete has been decided.
He also defended the government’s public works projects, which have recently come under harsh public criticism because of the mounting state debt and the bribery scandal involving former Construction Minister Eiichi Nakao that broke late last month.
Next January, a gigantic ministry with a huge public works budget is to come into being as the Transport Ministry, Construction Ministry, Hokkaido Development Agency and National Land Agency merge under a government streamlining program.
Many observers worry that the new ministry, which will control 80 percent of Japan’s public works budget, may become a hotbed of pork-barrel politics. Such concern was further fueled by Nakao’s recent arrest for allegedly receiving 30 million yen in bribes from a construction firm.
Morita claimed the government has been conducting regular reviews of public works projects since fiscal 1998 and has suspended some projects deemed unnecessary.
Nearly 30 projects under the Transport Ministry were canceled as a result of the reviews conducted in fiscal 1998, according to the ministry.
“We want to make the reviews much stricter. I don’t buy arguments like that of the Democratic Party of Japan, which wants a 30 percent cut in the overall public works budget,” Morita said.
In the June 25 House of Representatives general election, the Liberal Democratic Party, the champion of pump-priming public works projects, lost its majority in the chamber, suffering a severe setback in many urban areas, where voters’ benefits from gigantic construction projects appear limited compared with those in rural areas.
Morita admitted that public works projects may have been focused more in rural areas, and added that development policies for urban areas should also be established.
Another controversial issue the Transport Ministry is facing is the costly construction of five new bullet train lines initially planned in 1973.
Many politicians from underpopulated areas have made strong calls for new shinkansen lines linking them to the big cities, though such trains are unlikely to generate profits.
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who is from Ishikawa Prefecture, also wants a shinkansen line that travels to his hometown.
But Morita said the bullet train projects should not go beyond the routes already under construction. Further political talks to build new lines should come after securing the financial resources for the projects, he said.