Joban Expressway's Hirono-Tomioka stretch reopens after 3-year interval

A 16.4-kilometer stretch of the Joban Expressway between the Hirono and Tomioka interchanges, suspended in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis, reopened to traffic on Feb. 22 after an interval of nearly three years. It is the first time any expressway section in the former no-go zone has been opened to traffic. The reopening is expected to ease road congestion, spurring reconstruction in Futaba County, to which both Hirono and Tomioka towns belong, and reducing the burden on former local residents returning home for temporary stays. At a ceremony marking the occasion, held on the expressway near the Hirono interchange just before the resumption of traffic, transport minister Akihiro Ota reiterated that the government will do its best to complete suspended construction work on other Joban Expressway portions as soon as possible. It takes 29 minutes by car to move between Hirono and Tomioka when traveling via Route 6, but this will be shortened to 14 minutes by using the reopened expressway stretch, according to East Nippon Expressway Co. Both Route 6 and the Hirono interchange area are heavily congested, particularly in the morning and evening, due to massive vehicle traffic involving people engaged in reactor decommissioning at the Fukushima Daiichi plant as well as reconstruction and decontamination work in Futaba Country. By allowing some Route 6 traffic to be rerouted to the expressway, congestion is expected to improve considerably. It will also help strengthen goods distribution to and from the Tokyo metropolitan area, contributing to industrial rehabilitation in Futaba County.