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From zero to 160,000 kilometres: Examining China’s highway construction boom

May 3, 2021  By Rock to Road Staff

A screenshot from the CGTN video on China's highway system.

In October 1988, China opened its first highway – the Shanghai-Jiading Expressway.

Fast forward to today, and the country has more than 160,000 kilometres of highway — ranking first in the world.

Canada’s national highway system has about 38,000 kilometres of roadway, by comparison.

Chinese news source CGTN produced a video showcasing some of the highlights of the highway system.


Here’s some of the highlights from the nation’s network of highways, constructed over the last three decades.

The first in Chinese mainland – Shanghai-Jiading Expressway

The high-speed section of the Shanghai-Jiading Expressway starts from the south of Shanghai’s downtown area to Jiading District, with a total length of 15.9 km. The construction of this expressway accounts for 56 percent of the passenger and freight traffic on the Huyi Highway between the urban area and Jiading. It provides a good template for the construction of highways in other cities in China.

The busiest – Beijing-Hong Kong-Macao Expressway

The Beijing-Hong Kong-Macao Expressway starts from the Chinese capital and extends to the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions, stretching over 2,285 km.

Called the “Golden Channel,” it is the busiest artery of north-south traffic in China running between some of China’s most economically developed areas.

The longest – Lianyungang-Khorgos Expressway

The Lianyungang-Khorgos Expressway opened to traffic on December 31, 2014 with a total length of 4,395 km extending from the eastern coast of Jiangsu Province to the western border of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. It boasts the title of the “longest expressway in China” and is an important traffic artery along the Belt and Road.

Thanks to this highway, a freight truck setting out from Lianyungang now takes 10 days to reach Europe, crossing plains, mountains, plateaus and deserts.

By sea, the trip from the same starting point to the same destination would have taken 45 days.

The Lianyungang-Khorgos Expressway is rich in cultural treasures. There are 24 national 5A scenic spots along the way, including the Terracotta Warriors, Longmen Grottoes and Shaolin Temple, making it a good choice for a road trip.

The longest expressway passing through desert – Beijing-Urumqi Expressway

The Beijing-Urumqi Expressway has a total length of 2,540 km and passes through five provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions. It opened up the fastest route from northwest China’s Khorgos in Xinjiang to the northern port city of Tianjin.

The 930-km section of the Beijing-Urumqi Expressway in Inner Mongolia is a desert zone, which makes this expressway the longest highway in the world passing through the desert.

The most difficult construction – Shanghai-Chongqing Expressway

The Shanghai-Chongqing Expressway is 1,768 km long and opened to traffic in 2010. It is China’s first expressway that runs through the Yangtze River Delta area.

The section passes through the central province of Hubei and has an average altitude of 1,100 meters.

The complicated geological conditions made this expressway extremely difficult to construct.

The Shanghai-Chongqing Expressway shortened the transport of hotpot ingredients from Chongqing Municipality in the country’s southwest to Shanghai on China’s eastern coast from three days to just 17 hours.

Highest honor award – Jing-Wu-Huang (Chang) Expressway

The Jing-Wu-Huang (Chang) Expressway has a total length of about 152 km. This Y-shaped expressway connects the three eastern provinces of Jiangxi, Anhui and Zhejiang.

Although the road is not long, natural landscapes and cultural assets are in abundance along the way.

Engineers steered clear from ancient villages, rivers, and rare bird habitats and none of the hundreds of century-old camphor trees along the route were damaged. For this it won the highest award in China’s civil engineering – the Zhan Tianyou Award.

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