A section of the Beijing-Xinjiang Expressway in Bayan Nur City, north China Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (XINHUA)
"We are waiting here to be the first passengers after this expressway is open to traffic," an unnamed truck driver from north China's Hebei Province told China Business News at a toll station on the Beijing-Xinjiang Expressway on July 15.
"After this expressway is open, we can save one or two days and more than 1,000 yuan ($148.37) for every one-way trip to Xinjiang."
On July 15, the Ministry of Transport (MOT) and the governments of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Gansu Province and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region jointly announced that the 2,768-km Beijing-Xinjiang Expressway had become fully operational, with three final sections along risky terrain opened to traffic.
The new sections have a combined length of more than 1,200 km—the 930-km Linhe-Baigeda section in Inner Mongolia, the 134-km Baigeda-Mingshui section in Gansu and the 178-km Mingshui-Hami section in Xinjiang. The sections run through the Gobi Desert, which is characterized by drought and other poor natural conditions.
With construction started in September 2012, the Beijing-Xinjiang Expressway, or G7, has been built across Beijing and five other provincial-level regions, namely Hebei, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Gansu and Xinjiang. It passes cities including Zhangjiakou, Ulanqab, Hohhot, Baotou, Linhe, Ejin Banner, Hami, Turpan and Urumqi.
The expressway will cut nearly 1,300 km off the journey from Beijing to Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, compared with traveling via other highways, serving as the fastest and most convenient way to enter Xinjiang from north China by road. It also provides quick passage from Xinjiang's Khorgos Port to north China's Tianjin Port and reduces the length of the Eurasian Land Bridge linking Tianjin Port with Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Between the Beijing-Xinjiang Expressway's complete opening on July 15 and the morning of July 17, a total of 987 vehicles including 875 trucks entered Xinjiang, while 709 vehicles including 639 trucks exited the region through the Baishanquan toll station, the first such control point along the expressway's Xinjiang section, according to Bai Jianguo, Party secretary of the transport bureau of Hami City in Xinjiang.
"Most of the trucks passing through the toll station are from Tianjin, Hebei and Inner Mongolia," Bai told China Business News. Now is the harvest season for Hami melons, a kind of honeydew melon produced in Hami City of east Xinjiang, and most of the trucks leaving Xinjiang were carrying these and other fruit and farm produce. The trucks entering Xinjiang typically carry raw materials and machines as well as parts and accessories.
Li Dunyin, Vice Mayor of Hami, said, "The Beijing-Xinjiang Expressway will make Xinjiang more closely connected with inland areas and significantly stimulate the development of the economy and tourism industry in the areas along it."
The entire Baigeda-Mingshui section of the Beijing-Xinjiang Expressway, also called the Baiming Expressway, lies in Mazongshan Town, Subei County of Jiuquan City in Gansu. Learning that a new section was to be built, Wei Hong, head of the town, felt excited. Situated 480 km from the Subei County seat, Mazongshan covers 60,000 square km but has a population of only 13,000. For a long time, the only road connecting Mazongshan to the outside world had been a dirt road, and the town seemed to be located at a dead end.
Wei said Mazongshan has abundant mineral resources as well as cultural and tourism resources, but poor road conditions have made it difficult and expensive to access these resources. The newly opened expressway will greatly cut the transport time of these resources to the outside world.
Since the construction of the Baiming Expressway, Mazongshan and the whole of Subei have started industrial restructuring. "We plan to establish a camel industry base to attract investment, which will include processing camel meat, hair and dairy products," said Wei.
The Beijing-Xinjiang Expressway is stimulating industrial restructuring and upgrading in many regions along it.
"The Beijing-Xinjiang Expressway and the Beijing-Xinjiang Railway are changing Ejin Banner into a land transportation hub," said Zhang Huiqin, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Economy and Information Technology of Ejin Banner, Inner Mongolia.
According to her, the expressway will bring huge flows of people, logistics and information to Ejin, whose road transport volume is expected to reach 13 million tons by 2020.
Zhang said Ejin is planning to build an 89-hectare logistics industry park near its entrance to the expressway, with a total investment of 1 billion yuan ($148.37 million), and developing the park into an international trading and logistics industry park and modern logistics information platform in northwest China.
The bigger picture
"The 500-km section of the Beijing-Xinjiang Expressway in Inner Mongolia runs through an uninhabited area without any water and power supply or telecom signals," said Wang Hengbin, deputy chief of the engineering management division of MOT's administration of highways.
Wang said the significance of the expressway is that it is an important part of the national expressway network. This expressway will enhance the connection of different parts of north China and better serve China's western development strategy and the Belt and Road Initiative.
Ren Jinxiong, inspector of MOT's department of comprehensive planning, said the Beijing-Xinjiang Expressway opens a new east-west passageway linking Inner Mongolia, Gansu and Xinjiang. It is the most convenient highway linking Beijing with northwest Inner Mongolia, north Gansu and Xinjiang.
"Besides serving the Belt and Road Initiative and the western development strategy, the expressway will also promote economic and cultural exchanges between China and Mongolia, consolidate national defense and promote coordinated economic development in different regions along its route," Ren said.
According to the national highway network plan approved by the State Council in 2013, by 2030, China's national expressway network will have a total length of 118,000 km, comprising seven routes connecting Beijing with other major cities—Harbin, Shanghai, Taipei, Hong Kong, Macao, Kunming, Lhasa and Urumqi—11 north-south roads and 18 east-west links.
MOT figures show that by the end of June 2017, China's expressway network had grown 31,200 km since December 2012 to reach 99,200 km, around 84 percent of its total planned length.
Copyedited by Chris Surtees
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