Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Chinese Expressways vs US Interstates

The above graph compares the size of the US Interstate highway system (according to FHWA Table HM 220), with the Chinese Expressway system (according to the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics Table 16-4).  Both series currently run through 2009.  The notional extrapolation shown as the thin pink line suggests that the Chinese system will exceed the length of the US system sometime this year.  We won't know for sure until 2013.

Of all the different ways that China is overtaking the US, this seems like it might be a particularly psychologically significant one to Americans.


Don said...

Wow, scary graph.

Best hopes for them being "ghost highways", otherwise the significance to Americans will be much more than psychological.

Joel said...

I have been traveling around China last spring looking at city planning and infrastructure projects and have some comments to the graph.

First it has really been a tremendous development during the last years. We had big problems to find updates maps over the road networks and suddenly a new highway under development was hidden between the mountains. But, if we take out some highways in urban areas and parts of the coastal system, it is still a “ghost system” with very little traffic, at least in a European perspective. Our feeling is that the system primary has a function to connect the main cities and does not function as a replacement of busy rural roads. We traveled often 40 kilometers or more passing dense rural communities but without any exits on the roads.

Mainly it is because the rural road network in many parts of China still is very poorly developed and that car use in rural areas is very low.

We had a feeling that the Chinese skipped developing the more ordinary rural road system which is the base of the western road networks and decides to start with the most spectacular first.

Another reason could be that the Chinese wonder still mostly is a story about wealth creating in a number of big cities – and to connect those in a vast country with difficult terrain.

And if the highway development is incredibly I think the high speed rail network is even more fascinating with much larger investments in rail than road today. The high speed rail network is also binding together the “city state of China” in a more true sense.


Kenneth D. Worth said...

One will recall that the US highway system was a "ghost highway" system when it was first built during the Eisenhower years as part of the Cold War logistics programme. Even today, get on the I-40 headed East out of LA and you don't see much traffic till you get to Albuquerque.

Iconoclast421 said...

China's rate of building is clearly malinvestment. There is no way they will get a return on that investment the way we got a return on ours. If we built that many miles that fast, we would not have gotten as much return on it.

Edward said...

Figures for 2011 are out, and the China expressway network did exceed the US interstate network in that year. The US is still ahead on total expressways (i.e. including those which aren't part of the interstate network), but China is on track to overtake it soon.

2011 figures in '000 km
China expressways: 84.9
US interstates: 75.6
US total expressways: 100.9