New expressway section to ease traffic through central Tokyo

New expressway section to ease traffic through central Tokyo
Sagamihara-Aikawa Interchange on the Metropolitan Intercity Expressway.

A new section of the Metropolitan Intercity Expressway will open Saturday, linking three major highways in the Kanto region. The smoother flow of traffic is expected to ease congestion in central Tokyo and bring more tourists to areas along the new route.

The new 14.8-kilometer portion of the existing Metropolitan Intercity Expressway, also known as the Keno-do, will connect the Takaosan and Sagamihara-Aikawa interchanges.

Once it opens, the section will allow traffic flow between the Tomei, Chuo and Kanetsu expressways to detour around the heart of Tokyo.

About 60 per cent, or 180 kilometers, of the 300-kilometer Keno-do has so far opened.

According to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry's Sobu national highway office, about 90 per cent of vehicles driving between the Tomei and Kanetsu expressways go through the city centre, taking Tokyo's expressways and Inner Circular Route 8 among other routes.

Currently, it takes 89 minutes to drive between Ebina Junction of the Keno-do and Tsurugashima Junction of the Kanetsu Expressway via Route 8. The opening of the Keno-do's new section will reduce the figure to 53 minutes, and so is expected to significantly cut the number of vehicles traveling through the middle of Tokyo.

The toll between Ebina and Tsurugashima junctions has been set at ¥2,300 until March 2016. That is ¥110 less than a path over Route 8 and Kanetsu Expressway, among others.

Central Nippon Expressway Co. predicts that most vehicles going through central Tokyo will use the Keno-do following the opening of the new section.

The route from the Tomei to Kanetsu expressways, and vice versa, is an arterial highway, and about 20 per cent of cars on its roads are large vehicles, such as trucks.

Takashi Kaneko, a public relations officer for the Japan Trucking Association, said, "The opening will help improve drivers' working environment."

According to an estimate by the ministry's Kanto Regional Development Bureau in 2011, Saturday's opening of the new section will generate an economic benefit of about ¥55.1 billion a year due to the reduction of driving time and cost, among other reasons.

In the event of a disaster, the Keno-do with the new section can be used as a diversion route or alternative transport route.

The opening of the new section is expected to have positive effects on the tourism industry. Currently, it takes 131 minutes from Ebina Interchange to Tomioka Interchange of the Joshinetsu Expressway, the nearest interchange to Tomioka Silk Mill, a newly designated UNESCO World Heritage site in Tomioka, Gunma Prefecture. With the section's opening, that time will be reduced to 95 minutes.

An official of the Gunma prefectural government said, "We'd like to strengthen our promotional campaigns in Kanagawa and Shizuoka prefectures to attract more tourists to the site."

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