The government licensed six privatized corporations Friday to operate the nation’s highways on condition that they complete repayment of interest-bearing debts within 45 years retroactive to their privatization last Oct. 1.

The approval by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport represents a completion of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s initiative to privatize four highway-related public corporations, clearing the way for the six firms to manage highways and collect tolls as private companies from Saturday.

The four are Japan Highway Public Corp., Metropolitan Expressway Public Corp., Hanshin Expressway Public Corp. and Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Authority.

Japan Highway was split into three regional private companies — East Nippon Expressway Co., Central Nippon Expressway Co. and West Nippon Expressway Co.

Metropolitan Expressway, Hanshin Expressway and Honshu-Shikoku Bridge were renamed Metropolitan Expressway Co., Hanshin Expressway Co. and Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Expressway Co.

Ahead of receiving a government license, the six concluded a contract with the Japan Expressway Holding and Debt Repayment Agency, an independent administrative body that was created when the four highway-related public corporations were privatized, to manage their debts, which amount to 40 trillion yen, and assets. The contract calls for East Nippon, Central Nippon and West Nippon to collect tolls on expressways that had been covered by the now-defunct Japan Highway for 44 years and 11 months.

After that, all existing expressways will become toll-free.

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