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The Great Highway System of China

Forget about The Great Wall of China. That’s yesterday’s news.

While the do-nothings in Congress sit on their hands and let our national infrastructure fall apart, China is spending a small fortune on its highways and bridges. They are, in fact, creating, The Great Highway System of China.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, over the past five years, China’s Transport Ministry spent 4.7 trillion yuan ($713 billion) on road and water transportation – more than double the sum of the annual expenditures listed in U.S. Department of Transportation budget reports for the same time period.

Expressways in China now total 74,000 kilometers, or 46,000 miles, the ministry says – just a thousand miles short of the U.S. interstate system. China has said that by 2020, it hopes to have about 85,000 kilometers of national expressways – a target that it will likely reach before the date, since it has already built 90 percent of the total.

The speed of China’s buildup is also impressive, especially in recent years. It has built the majority of its expressways in the past decade and built 33,000 kilometers in the past five years. The U.S. Interstate system, in contrast, was built over more than three decades, starting from 1958 and lasting until 1991.

The appalling lack of action by Congress, and the negative impact of its indecision, has a trickle-down effect. Edward Sullivan, chief economist with the Portland Cement Association is no longer bullish on a fast rebound for the construction economy. Speaking at the just-concluded World of Concrete in Las Vegas, he said that he believes the gains originally forecast for 2011 will not transpire until 2012, or beyond.

He noted that mortgage foreclosures continue to be a detriment to residential construction, and the commercial market is overbuilt with high vacancy rates, so there is no great opportunity for expansion there.

Public construction is at the mercy of infrastructure funding, which as noted above, is about 1,535th on the list in terms of priority for this Congress.

Next month, we head off to ConExpo-Con/Agg 2011 in Las Vegas. Maybe the largest construction show in North America can send a message to Congress: China gets it, why don’t you?

- Mark S. Kuhar, editor
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