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[News Focus] Record traffic jams expected in 2020 summer vacation

This photo shows cars and buses waiting in line before a tollgate for the Gyeongbu Expressway -- running between Seoul and Busan -- located in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province during Chuseok holiday in 1989. (Yonhap)
This photo shows cars and buses waiting in line before a tollgate for the Gyeongbu Expressway -- running between Seoul and Busan -- located in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province during Chuseok holiday in 1989. (Yonhap)

SEJONG -- This summer, during the vacation season in particular, extraordinary traffic jams are expected on major expressways nationwide in the wake of the novel coronavirus.

This is because there is a high possibility that most vacationers will give up overseas travel this year. Instead, they are likely to choose to stay at local beaches and mountains.

This could bring a bounce-back in the consumption index and a surge in tax revenue – via tolls and gasoline taxes -- during the third quarter. But observers cast worries over the scenario that the habitual traffic jams in past vacation seasons will peak this summer.

Others, on the contrary, claim that some vacationers may seek to grab the “golden opportunity” of overseas travel at cheap prices.

In the 1980s, a large portion of Koreans in metropolitan cities took trains or express buses when they went on vacation. Those days were before the “my car era” opened in Korea in the early 1990s, when there was at least one automobile per household.

Though it has been more than 50 years since the nation’s first expressway opened -- the Gyeongin Expressway running between Seoul and Incheon -- and dozens of others have followed, it has become routine for drivers to suffer heavy traffic jams during summer vacation seasons and the two major traditional holidays of Lunar New Year and Chuseok.

Further, cars are running bumper to bumper on some expressways every day during commuting hours.

According to a series of reports, this traffic congestion hampers national competitiveness, with various media claiming that the annual cost to the economy of traffic congestion nationwide has risen past 30 trillion won ($24.3 billion).

The Gyeongbu and Jungbu expressways carry about 25 percent of the collective freight transportation on expressways nationwide. And experts say that there is an urgent need to disperse traffic by mapping out land development plans in an effective manner.

Officials at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport are pinning hopes on the coming expressway linking Seoul and Sejong, which has been under construction since 2016.

The Seoul-Sejong Expressway, which is also called the second Gyeongbu Expressway, will run between the Gyeongbu and Jungbu lines with six lanes in two directions.

It will link eastern part of the capital and the administrative-oriented city, where the Government Complex and state-funded institutes are located.

According to an analysis from the Land Ministry, it will take about 70 minutes to reach Sejong from Seoul on the highway, compared to the current 129 minutes on the Gyeongbu Expressway.

The first section (72.6 kilometers) of the Seoul-Sejong Expressway is from Guri (east of Seoul) to Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, and is scheduled for completion by December 2022.

The second route links Anseong and Sejong (58 kilometers), with construction started this year. Completion is due by June 2024.

Meanwhile, opponents raise side effects involving property speculation and destruction of the ecological environment in rural districts between the cities.

Nevertheless, government officials are focusing on the huge growth potential of Sejong City, to which many households have moved from the Seoul-Gyeonggi and Daejeon areas. They say the expressway will accelerate the expansion of the administrative city.

The number of residents in the city stood at 103,127 in July 2012, when the city was officially launched. Its population has shot up 234.7 percent to 345,216 as of April 2020.

Many enterprises across the country also regard the city as a business opportunity, citing the demographic change. A civil servant predicted that the number of Sejong residents would reach 500,000 by 2024.

By Kim Yon-se (