The Honshu-Shikoku expressway system links Honshu and Shikoku via three routes. But its tolls are higher than other expressways because the expressway system includes many bridge crossings over straits, where construction costs were high. Tolls for its land sections are 1.1 times higher and those for its strait sections 10.3 to 16.4 times higher than other expressways.

The central government has proposed that it and 10 local governments concerned extend their joint provision of annual ¥80 billion for two years from April 2012 so that the tolls can be lowered to the same level in the land sections as other expressways and 4.4 times higher in the strait sections. Currently, the central government is shouldering two-thirds and the 10 prefectural and city governments one-third of the ¥80 billion.

Under the central government’s proposal, the tolls for ordinary passenger cars and minicars on holidays will go down by 40 to 50 percent from the current levels if the drivers use the electronic toll collection system.

The proposal has put the central and the local governments at loggerheads. The central government says that since the expressways system was built at the local governments’ request, they should provide a reasonable amount of funds. The local governments say that since they have already provided about ¥540 billion so far, they would provide no more funds. Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto says that he does not care even if the local governments’ refusal to pay more leads to higher expressway tolls.

Both sides should compromise. Otherwise, vehicle users will be inconvenienced and the number of expressway users will decline. This would have a negative effect on local economies.

The central government has the responsibility of making the compromise easy. The most important thing is to make transparent the prospects of future financial burdens for the local governments and a future traffic volume in the Honshu-Shikoku expressway system. It can also devise a system under which the financial burdens of the local governments will be lowered if the traffic volume exceeds a certain target. In addition, it can promise to pay back the funds shouldered by the local governments.

The local governments may desire that the central government shoulder the whole costs to lower the tolls. But there is a possibility that local governments in other regions would complain about such an idea.

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