Future of roads in China: Intelligent highway in Zhejiang province to provide blueprint

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Travelling in a self-driving vehicle at 150 kilometres per hour along an intelligent highway-which offers automatic charging and toll-paying functionality on the go-will no longer be a sci-fi concept in China in a few short years.

A super highway, extending 161km, equipped with intelligent transportation systems to support autonomous vehicles, is expected to break ground by 2022 in Zhejiang province, the provincial transport authority said.

The highway, connecting Hangzhou, Shaoxing and Ningbo-- three relatively prosperous cities-- is designed to ease traffic congestion on the highway linking Hangzhou and Ningbo, and aims to reduce travel time by a third to just 60 minutes.

"The ultimate goal is to realise a top speed limit of 150kmh, or even eliminate speed limits, like on German highways," said Mr Ren Zhong, deputy director of transport for Zhejiang.

However, current highways with a speed limit of 120kmh can only realise actual sustained vehicle speeds of 95kmh due to the mixture of various vehicle types, toll booth delays, traffic accidents and other issues, Mr Ren said.

The intelligent highway system will allow vehicles to freely flow past toll booths, which means drivers do not need to stop and charges will be automatically billed, he said.

The highway will have a green emphasis in support of increasingly popular electric vehicles by constructing facilities,-including charging piles and solar-power electricity generation,-to support the emissions-free vehicles.

Mr Ren said it will also employ charge-as-you-drive battery-charging technology that will be realised in 2022, when Hangzhou hosts the Asian Games.

He said the intelligent, fast, green and safe highways driven by big data will provide a blueprint for future highway construction.

Mr Jia Xinguang, executive director of the China Automobile Dealers Association, said to realise the goal of a 150kmh top speed limit is a big challenge. Government efforts and investment targeting the raising of average traffic speeds are necessary, especially for the development of intelligent traffic systems.

Companies are now engaged in the research and development of self-driving cars, and government-led investment efforts would be vital to update roads, traffic signals and other elements providing infrastructure for such traffic systems, Mr Jia said.

He added that the function of automatic free-flowing charging could be promoted in the country in the future. It would help lower labour costs by cutting down on toll station staff and raising the vehicle capacity of highways.