SEJONG -- There are three major expressways linking the Seoul metropolitan area and the southern parts of the country.
Along the western side of the peninsula, there is the Seohaean Expressway running between Seoul and Mokpo, South Jeolla Province. The oldest route, the Gyeongbu Expressway, runs between Seoul and Busan. Lastly, the Jungbu Expressway runs from Hanam, Gyeonggi Province to Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province.
Over the past decades, the highways have played a great part in the country’s industrialization, development of rural districts and growth of regional tourism.
Inspectors dispatched by the government count the traffic volume at a location of Gyeongbu Expressway in 1970. (National Archives of Korea)
Nevertheless, it has become routine for drivers on the three main roads to suffer heavy traffic jams during commuting hours, weekends, summer vacation seasons and traditional holidays.
There have been a series of reports that 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 ($25.4 billion).
The Gyeongbu and Jungbu expressways carry about 25 percent of the collective freight transportation on expressways nationwide.
The government is pinning hopes on the coming expressway linking the Seoul metropolitan and Sejong, whose construction has been underway since 2016.
The Seoul-Sejong Expressway, which is also called the second Gyeongbu Expressway, will be placed between 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.
It will take about 70 minutes to reach Sejong from Seoul on the highway, compared to the current 129 minutes on Gyeongbu, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.
The first construction route (72.6 kilometers) of the Seoul-Sejong Expressway is from Guri (east of Seoul) to Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, which has been on the construction with completion goal by December 2022.
The second route links Anseong and Sejong (58 km), whose construction will start as early as this year with completion target by June 2024.
Meanwhile, opponents raise side effects involving property speculation and destruction of the ecological environments in rural districts between the cities.
As an example, land prices in some districts of Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, soared in line with the expressway construction and SK hynix’s planned building of an assembly factory in the region, closed to the coming Seoul-Sejong highway.
Proponents highlight the possible effect of employment in the region. “Hiring of more than 50,000 employees involving SK hynix’s subcontractors is expected,” said a government official. “The expressway will also much contribute to a balanced regional development (in Gyeonggi and South Chungcheong provinces).”
(Graphic by Han Chang-duck/The Korea Herald)
Analysts are focusing on the huge growth potential of Sejong City, to which many households from the Seoul-Gyeonggi and Daejeon have relocated their residence. They say the expressway will accelerate the expansion of the autonomous 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 217.7 percent to 327,643 as of June 2019, according to the Ministry of Interior and Safety.
Further, three more apartment complexes, 3,256 household units collectively, in the city received applications for purchase recently.
Many enterprises across the country also regard the city as a business opportunity, citing the demographic change. An owner of a private academic institution in Incheon said he was considering opening a branch in Sejong, while a convenience store owner in Gimpo said she has bought some land in Sejong for new business.
A civil servant predicted that the number of Sejong residents would surpass 500,000 in about five years.
But he expressed concerns about transportation, saying that “for about two years, I’ve been experiencing traffic jams during peak commuting hours.”
By Kim Yon-se (email@example.com)