In early July, infrastructure and transport minister Akihiro Ohata announced a plan to complete three expressways that, together, will link Sendai with Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, in about 10 years.
Although the Democratic Party of Japan won the August 2009 Lower House election and came to power with a slogan “from concrete to humans,” Mr. Ohata’s plan is reasonable because the expressways will help push the long-term reconstruction of the Tohoku region hit by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
The three expressways consist of the Sanriku Jukan Expressway linking Sendai with Miyako, Iwate Prefecture; the Sanriku Kita Jukan Expressway linking Miyako with Kuji, Iwate Prefecture; and the Hachinohe-Kuji Expressway linking Kuji with Hachinohe — 360 km long in total.
The government has not yet decided on the routes and other basic policies for 41 percent of their length, where construction has not yet started. Mr. Ohata’s ministry plans to decide on the routes and the location of interchanges for these sections by the end of August after listening to local opinions.
In a commendable move, his ministry has set down a new criterion, under which expressways that will serve as evacuation routes or will be useful in transporting relief personnel and materials in the event of natural disasters should be built even if their cost benefits measured by construction cost and traffic demand are not high.
The three expressways will serve as a bypass for National Highway No. 45, which was made impassable at many points by the March 11 tsunami.
Because they will traverse higher ground, the expressways will not be susceptible to damage from tsunami. Their service areas may be used for evacuation in case of future disasters. New residential areas for victims of the March 11 disasters can be built near interchanges.
It is expected that an additional ¥400 billion to ¥500 billion will be needed to complete the three expressways, whose total construction is expected to reach nearly ¥1 trillion. The government should set aside funds for the construction of the three expressways so that their construction will not suffer from fund shortages. It should also consider applying the new criterion for expressways in other disaster-prone areas.