Impressive feats of engineering
AFRIEND SENT ME A VIDEO CLIP RECENTLY. IT’S CALLED The Grand Tour: China’s Road Network, and it’s presented by British motoring madmen Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, formerly of Top Gear fame.
Clarkson lavishes praise on China’s highways as “the eighth wonder of the world.” The Chinese motorways, constructed only over the last two decades or so, are certainly an extraordinarily impressive engineering achievement.
There are 135,000 kilometres of motorway – more than any other country in the world – and include a bridge that is 54kms long (about the same distance as Wellington to Waikanae), according to the documentary.
Motorways, all multi-lane and super smooth, span rivers and gorges and alpine passes: “There’s no mountain high enough, no valley deep enough,” says Clarkson.
The documentary, which was produced at the beginning of 2019, well before the coronavirus outbreak, demonstrates China’s great push to become a world leader – and one of the ways it’s doing that, just as other countries have done in the past, is by building roads.
Yes, China also has high-speed rail, but motorways are still vital for moving freight and people across the country.
Two thousand years ago, the ancient Romans built roads to connect their empire – the largest on earth at that time. They built them so well that many remain to this day – in fact some were better built than more modern ones!
In the 1930s, Hitler built Germany’s autobahn network – partly to help solve unemployment. If only he had struck to infrastructure instead of launching World War 2! The autobahns – parts of which still have no speed restrictions for cars – were extended after the war and have played a vital role in creating Germany’s powerhouse economy.
I have lived in Germany and visited many times. One surprise is that not all big industries are located in major cities. You can visit a small town or village and find a major manufacturer (a bathroom factory, a glass factory, or a piano factory, for example) that exports its products around the world and supports jobs in the local community.
Yes, you can get most places by rail, which is great, but good roads are essential in ensuring trucks reach main transport hubs.
Norway is another European country with outsize motorway plans. The $NZ78billion, 1100km Coastal Highway project envisages connecting Norway’s rugged west coast via a single highway, from Kristiansand in the far south, to Trondheim in the north – crossing fjords and mountains. The project aims to eliminate the need for ferries by building a series of bridges and tunnels.
New Zealand’s landscape is equally challenging. As the population has steadily grown, it has become clear that our roading network is woefully inadequate. Wellington’s Transmission Gully, when it is finally completed, will be a huge improvement.
Plans to invest more in roads, announced earlier this year, were welcomed, but unfortunately did not go far enough. The South Island largely missed out, with the lion’s share of funding going to Auckland. I believe that was a short-sighted plan.
More money for infrastructure and roads, announced in the Budget, is good news for the trucking industry. But, as is often the case, the devil will be in the detail. The Road Transport Association, together with the Road Transport Forum, can make a difference by listening to members and ensuring their voices are heard by the authorities and government ministers.
It is a fallacy to think that roading and the environment are mutually exclusive. Both Norway and Germany, for example, are big on sustainability, climate change, and renewable energy. Think about it: If you have fast and free-flowing motorways, then vehicles use less fuel, producing fewer emissions. They speed up transit times, easing stress levels and benefitting businesses – a win-win.
As in other countries, better roads can help rebuild the economy and improve people’s lives.
The views in this column are David Killick’s own and may not necessarily reflect those of the association. T&D
Chinese motorways have been dubbed the eighth wonder of the world.