The nation’s debt-laden expressways will remain government-owned despite recommendations that they be privatized.

New private firms that will be set up to manage and operate Japan’s expressways will not be allowed to purchase the expressways themselves in 10 years’ time, government sources said Thursday.

The decision flies in the face of recommendations issued by a government advisory panel last year.

Legislation aimed at privatizing four public highway operators is scheduled to be finalized by the end of the year.

In December 2002, the advisory panel — through a majority vote — submitted to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi a report on the privatization of Japan Highway Public Corp., Metropolitan Expressway Public Corp., Hanshin Expressway Public Corp. and the Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Authority.

The report advocates privatizing the four entities, with the resulting firms acquiring the highways within a decade.

The sources said Thursday, however, that certain figures within the government believe that having privately owned expressways would be unacceptable from a road traffic administration viewpoint.

They also believe it could prove problematic in the event of natural disasters and from the standpoint of national security, the sources said.

“Expressways are an important public asset, and it would not be desirable for only highways, which are the main arteries of public transport, to be privately owned in times of disaster or military contingency,” one source said.

Critics argue, however, that leaving the expressways in the hands of the government could leave room for new roads to be built via political influence. They say the issue may take some more twists and turns before the legislation takes shape.

The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry is scheduled to submit its legislative draft to the ruling coalition after Sunday’s general election for the House of Representatives.

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