The infrastructure and transport ministry has worked out a medium-term plan for road construction — a revision of a plan drafted in November 2007. The new plan is better because it makes more realistic projections of future public demand for additional and improved roads. The government should do its best to avoid wasteful investment and to use funds efficiently.

The November 2007 plan originally called for spending ¥65 trillion for building roads over a 10-year period. In view of the trend for economizing on public works, even the government ruling bloc criticized it. The amount was eventually reduced to ¥59 trillion, but the plan still faced strong criticism from the opposition bloc in the Diet because it was based on data from fiscal 2002, when demand for road construction was expected to keep rising.

The new plan covers five years from fiscal 2009 and states that such demand will gradually decrease. It does not carry price tags for road construction, since the use of road-related tax revenues has been freed up for other budget items.

Employing new data on traffic volume and taking into account declines in population, the plan forecasts that demand for road construction in 2020 and 2030 will decrease by about 10 percent. Using a more realistic method to measure costs and benefits, it acknowledges that the number of road sections where costs cannot be justified relative to benefits will increase by 20 to 30 percent.

Under the premise of serious cost-reduction efforts and prevention of wasteful spending, the plan makes clear that road construction should be coordinated with the development plans of local communities. For example, it states that roads linking ports and airports with city and industrial centers should be given priority for improvement.

It will become important for the ministry to work out detailed plans for road construction in local communities because needs differ from community to community. The ministry should devise a way to fully reflect the voices of local residents and local government officials. It also should set a nationwide standard for road improvement to prevent the concentration of expressways in some regions and areas.

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