China / Society

Network of roads drives up huge loss

By ZHAO LEI (China Daily) Updated: 2014-12-24 07:25

China is experiencing a huge deficit generated by its construction and operation of the world's largest network of expressways, while members of the public continue to blast what they see as unreasonable tolls.

In 2013, local transport authorities and highway businesses across the Chinese mainland received toll revenue of 365.2 billion yuan ($58.4 billion), while their overall expenditure from building, operating and maintaining highways reached 431.2 billion yuan, the Ministry of Transport said on Tuesday in an annual report on toll highways.

Most of the 66 billion yuan deficit was due to bank loans and interest, which cost more than 314 billion yuan, according to the report.

China began to charge tolls on some highways in 1984 and invests part of the revenue on new roads. Almost all expressways built after that year were funded by the money, the ministry said.

By the end of last year, the mainland had 156,500 kilometers of toll highways and more than 100,000 km of toll expressways, the longest in the world.

The construction of the expressways has witnessed skyrocketing costs, the report said.

Building 1 km of highway cost nearly 91 million yuan in 2013, as much as 80 percent more than in 2011, Transport Ministry statistics show.

Li Yanwu, director of the ministry's bureau of highways, told China Communications News disclosing the figures aims to boost transparency by placing revenue under public scrutiny.

However, the numbers have been frequently cited by local governments and highway operators to justify prolonging their collection of tolls.

According to regulations, State-funded highways can collect tolls for 15 years after they are put into operation.

Highways in central and western regions, which are usually economically underdeveloped, are allowed to extend the duration by five years.

In response, profit-oriented officials and businesses have been striving to find leeway to circumvent the stipulated duration.

The Hebei section of the Beijing-Shijiazhuang Expressway has obtained provincial government approval to prolong its toll collection by 22 years, despite having charged tolls since 1993.

Local transport officials said the expressway had undergone a "major upgrade and extension" so it is fair to treat the road as a new expressway.

Professor Jia Shunping, who researches road transportation at Beijing Jiaotong University, said some government departments and highway businesses are taking advantage of loopholes in the regulation.

"The regulation fails to stipulate whether and how long a highway can prolong its toll collections after being renovated or extended, so lawmakers should fix the problem as soon as possible," Jia said.

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