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  • Writer's pictureHirokazu Kobayashi

Road situation: Its legacy, action, and prospects for "V2X"!

Updated: Jul 11

Hirokazu Kobayashi

CEO, Green Insight Japan, Inc.

Professor Emeritus and Visiting Professor, University of Shizuoka


The reason for red poles seems not to "avoid wasteful construction" but rather to "avoid using what has been built." They have been erected in the leftmost lane of the three lanes, including the tunnel, to prevent driving in that lane. These poles are called "Inose Poles". These can be seen on the 69.8 km section from "Yokkaichi JCT" to "Otsu JCT" on the Shin-Meishin Expressway (the western stretch of E1A). Why is it not used if it is there? On the other hand, on the 144.7 km section of the Shin-Tomei Expressway (the eastern stretch of E1A) from "Gotenba JCT" to "Hamamatsu Inasa JCT," the speed limit has been partially increased from 100 km/h (62 mi/h) to 110 km/h (68 mi/h) and 120 km/h (75 mi/h) since 2016. In December 2020, the entire section had three lanes, which became a 120 km/h speed limit. Additionally, the design speed for this section is set at 140 km/h (87 mi/h). With this change, the "poles" that existed in the past are no longer visible. These poles' presence and removal significantly impact the expressway experience, highlighting the need for more efficient and user-friendly policies.


In 2001, under the slogan "No Growth Without Reform," the Koizumi administration pushed for reforming "Special Corporations under Japanese Law." In June 2002, the "Committee to Promote Privatization of the Four Road-Related Public Corporations" was established. At the request of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (1942-), seven members, including Naoki Inose (1946-), were appointed to this committee, and Inose and his team were instrumental in obtaining a cabinet decision on the privatization plan, while five members were said to be cut off by interested parties and left the committee. During this period, at the “First National Land Development Trunk Highway Construction Conference” held in December 2003, the Shin-Tomei Expressway and the Shin-Meishin Expressway were revised from three lanes to two in each direction. The sections where construction had begun were continued with three lanes in each direction. In the 2012 Tokyo gubernatorial election, following the resignation of Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara (1932-2022), Inose won the election with the most votes of any individual in Japan's electoral history. This made him the third writer-born governor of Tokyo after Yukio Aoshima (1932-2006) and Shintaro Ishihara. In other words, public opinion strongly supported Inose's innovative policies.

 

The planned traffic volume for the New Tomei is 62,000 vehicles/day with three lanes in each direction. The present maximum section is approximately 57,700 vehicles/day (Nagaizumi Numazu IC - Shin-Fuji IC in 2021). The planned traffic volume for Shin-Meishin is 41,600 vehicles/day. The current busiest section is approximately 47,800 vehicles/day (Konan IC - Shigaraki IC in 2021). This is already close to or exceeds the planned traffic volume and is estimated to become even more significant when the three lanes of the entire line are opened. Since September 2021, I have made more than 30 round trips between Shizuoka and Nara on the connection of expressways, Shin-Shizuoka IC in Shin-Tomei - Isewangan - Shin-Meishin (E1A throughout these sections) - Keiji Bypass (E88) - Daini-Keihan (E89) - Shin-Meishin (E1A) - Yamadagawa IC in Keinawa (E24), a total distance of 309.5 km one way just by expressway, where the Shin-Meishin is bypassed twice because its middle section is not connected. This route is often congested, and I understand that the current traffic volume is almost at its limit.


At night, service areas (SAs) and parking areas (PAs) are often terrifying for cars, as large trucks park long on the shoulder of the expressway or either in the deceleration or acceleration lane connecting to the main line. This is the "crime of the late-night discount." If they get off the expressway after midnight, they get a 30%-discount on the toll. They are waiting for this discount. Truck drivers are undoubtedly eager to finish their work early, but this puts an even heavier burden on their work. This is not the case on Saturdays and Sundays, which helps ordinary cars. This may be intended to "spread the traffic," but the damage is more significant. If the expressway companies want to help the logistics industry, lower the standard tolls. Alternatively, I firmly believe that the number of truck parking spaces at SAs and PAs should be increased.


Even for passengers, toilet facilities are a crying problem for older people. There are usually SAs or PAs on expressways every 30 km or so. However, on the route I use above, there is not a single restroom on the 47.4 km stretch from the Keiji Bypass - Daini-Keihan - Shin-Meishin - Keinawa Expressway and the Meishin-Kusatsu PA. Also, when entering the Kyoto Jukan Expressway (E9) from the Keiji Bypass, there are no restrooms in the 58.3 km section from the Meishin-Kusatsu PA to the Nantan PA. These are "arterial high-standard highways" but are not "national highways, A class roads," and they are "limited-access roads, including B class roads." This may be why the installation of PAs does not consider the use of the highway network. The Keiji Bypass is 27.1 km long. Therefore, a PA was deemed unnecessary, but users straddle multiple expressways. From the user's point of view, all PAs are toll sections and should be user-friendly.


Logistics is the foundation of the Japanese economy, and highways are also an essential means of moving people when public transportation is not convenient at the destination. From the perspective of cost-effectiveness and safety, reforms are needed with a long-term perspective. They should consider the SDGs and the shrinking size of Japan's population due to the declining birthrate. In other words, rather than adding more lanes and expanding routes, it would be preferable to make more advanced use of existing infrastructure. One of the most promising possibilities is the development of automated driving. As the number of vehicles passing each other increases and it becomes impossible to maintain a distance between vehicles, traffic congestion will naturally occur. However, automated driving aims to maintain speed and drive safely even as vehicle density increases. Progress in automated driving begins with reducing the burden on the driver and ensuring safety. Currently, automated driving is at "Level 2". The final type is defined as "Level 5". We hear a "Level 5" demonstration on public roads is planned for 2027. Automakers are competing to develop this technology. Communication between vehicles will be necessary to achieve a higher level of automated driving that ensures safety and efficiency. In addition, a minimum level of cost-effective road infrastructure development is essential. For example, traffic signals are challenging to recognize colors when backlit by the sun's position. Therefore, radio wave signals should be used to indicate "green," "yellow," and "red." These technologies are already aligned. The concept of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication are collectively referred to as vehicle-to-everything (V2X). These technologies allow vehicles to exchange information with each other and the infrastructure in real-time, enabling safer and more efficient driving. In this way, road transportation will be perfected.




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