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The transport ministry plans to request 7.5 yen billon next fiscal year to build highway interchanges catering exclusively to vehicles outfitted with electronic toll collection system equipment, ministry officials said Saturday.

The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry is considering setting up 25 such interchanges each year, with the national and local governments sharing the costs of building and operating them, the officials said.

The ministry is to file the request with the Finance Ministry by the end of August as part of its spending requests for the fiscal 2005 budget.

The envisaged interchanges would either be linked to rest stops on highways or areas where highways cross major roads to encourage more drivers to use highways, they said.

The ministry said drivers in Japan use highways less than those in the United States partly because the distance between interchanges averages 10 km in Japan, about twice that of the United States.

The ministry aims eventually to double the number of interchanges from the current 700 to spur the use of highways. The establishment of ETC-compatible interchanges is expected to help achieve the goal with much lower personnel and other operational costs.

Interchange construction depends primarily on Japan Highway Public Corp., but the government has decided to share the costs in cases where the public corporation dismisses local government requests to set up such interchanges.

Under the plan, the transport ministry would shoulder costs to set up ETC gates and related equipment, along with those to remodel highways and parking lots at rest stops.

The national and local governments would jointly upgrade local government-run roads linked to highway rest stops.

The highway corporation will only assume management costs for the envisaged interchanges.

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