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The national government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government have agreed to build a controversial expressway project in Tokyo under ground to avoid costly land purchases, transport minister Chikage Ogi said Friday.

“By also making the tunnel more compact, we can reduce costs by 300 billion yen,” Ogi told a news conference. “We’d like to complete it as the first project under the deep subterranean utilization law.”

Under the law, authorities are not required to buy land or compensate residents if tunnels for subway or road construction projects lie more than 40 meters below the surface.

The 16-km underground section in Nerima and Setagaya wards will form part of the Gaikando expressway, which will ring the outskirts of Tokyo.

Ogi said the plan will reduce the cost of building the road to 70 billion yen per kilometer from the previously estimated 100 billion yen. The estimated time required to complete the project will be halved from the current 15 years.

She is expected to meet Wednesday with the heads of municipalities affected by the project, including Nerima, Setagaya and the western suburb of Musashino, ministry officials said.

The plan will also be presented to councils set up by local residents and others, the officials said.

The project, initially conceived as an elevated road, has been frozen for more than 30 years amid opposition from residents concerned about noise and air pollution.

The prospect of having to move to make room for the expressway has also upset many residents.

Under the initial plan, 3,010 homes were to be leveled.

With the expressway now set to run deep underground, however, only 480 homes will be affected, according to the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry.

Later in the day, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara said the metropolitan government will work closely with the national government to get the project up and running.

“We will make efforts to turn (the proposal) into a concrete plan in cooperation with the national government,” he said. “We would like to ask for cooperation from local communities.”

The metropolitan government is responsible for city planning in the area where the underground expressway is proposed, while the national government will handle the financing.

The Gaikando expressway will be 85 km long and lie within a 15-km radius of central Tokyo.

As one of three similar ring roads in the metropolitan area, its aim is to ease traffic congestion, according to the authorities.

A 20-km section of the road connecting the Tomei Expressway to the Tokyo Bay area is now being studied, while a 20-km section in Chiba Prefecture is expected to be completed in 2007.

A 30-km section in Saitama Prefecture is already in use.

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