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China's first expressway to go toll-free from 2012

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SHANGHAI, Dec. 29 (Xinhua) -- China's first expressway, which was built in 1984 in Shanghai, will operate toll-free from the beginning of 2012, the municipal government announced Thursday.

The Municipal Commission of Urban and Rural Construction and Communications said the 18-km expressway linking Shanghai's downtown with the Jiading district in its western outskirts will have its toll stations dismantled and operate toll-free from Jan. 1, 2012.

Expensive expressway tolls have been criticized by the Chinese public for years, as people believe expressways should be toll-free once investors recoup their investments and charge enough for road maintenance.

The Shanghai commission did not disclose when the investment of 230 million yuan (36 million U.S. dollars) for the construction of the Shanghai-Jiading Expressway was recovered.

The toll exemption has been seen as the local government's response to a circular jointly issued by five Chinese ministries in June to check expressway toll collections.

He Jianzhong, spokesman of the Ministry of Communications, said earlier this month that 30 Chinese provinces and regions, except Tibet, have charged toll fees at expressways.

He urged local authorities to conduct self-examinations before the central government launches a nationwide crackdown against toll-collection disorder.

The Shanghai commission said Thursday that in addition to the Shanghai-Jiading Expressway going toll-free, all other expressways in Shanghai will see tolls halved from Jan. 1, 2012.

Prior to this, other major cities, including Beijing and Nanjing, also cut toll fees on certain expressways. Beijing's Airport Expressway, for example, halved the one-way toll fee to 5 yuan per car in July.

Although some people say the reduced fees have resulted in more severe traffic congestion, the public still expects to see tolls eliminated on more roads.

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