Japan launching test of toll-free highways

By CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 5, 2010

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japan announced an experimental plan Tuesday to further cut the cost of traveling its toll roads. Starting in June, about 18 percent of the nation’s toll roads — including all on Okinawa — will be free for all vehicles for 10 months.

The 37 roads that will be free — totaling about 1,000 miles — include the entire Okinawa Expressway, portions of the West Kyushu Expressway in Sasebo and parts of Aomori and Hachinohe expressways near Misawa.

The Metropolitan Expressway, Hanshin Expressway and other arterial highways that connect major cities of Japan were excluded to avoid large traffic jams, according to a statement released Tuesday by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

Seiji Maehara, head of the ministry, said the $1 billion program would evaluate how eliminating tolls would affect traffic jams, the environment and public transportation.

The test falls in line with a campaign promise made by the new government to get rid of the nation’s costly tolls.

In March, the previous government launched a program capping the toll fee for expressways at 1,000 yen, or about $10, on weekends and holidays for vehicles with an electric toll collection device.

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