Part of Soma-Fukushima expressway opens, completion eyed in fiscal 2020

Part of a new expressway linking Fukushima Prefecture's Pacific coast city of Soma and the inland city of Fukushima opened to traffic on March 26. The 10.5-kilometer stretch between the Soma-Yamakami and Soma-Tamano interchanges is the first completed portion among five parts of the 45.7-km toll-free Tohoku Chuo Expressway "Soma-Fukushima Road” under construction as a “reconstruction support road” financed by the central government to help rebuild the prefecture and other parts of the Tohoku northeastern Japan region that was devastated by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. The completed portion is known as the Abukuma-Higashi (east) Road. At an opening ceremony, Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Keiichi Ishii said the government will seek to complete the entire freeway in fiscal 2020 ending in March 2021. It was the first time for the national government to specify the year of completion. Two other portions of the Soma-Fukushima Road are to open in fiscal 2020. They are the 7.4-km stretch between the Ryozen and Fukushima Hobara interchanges and the 2.0-km part between the Route 4 interchange and Fukushima-Kita (north) junction (all names are provisional). But land purchase negotiations have yet to be concluded for a 2.8-km stretch in between -- from the Fukushima Hobara to Route 4 interchanges -- in Date city. And the ground in the area is soft, requiring extra work to strengthen it. These factors had prevented the transport ministry from specifying when the expressway would be completed. The opening ceremony for the Abukuma-Higashi Road was held from 10:30 a.m. near the Soma-Tamano interchange in Soma. Four horses mounted by local people dressed as samurai warriors, belonging to the Udago Kishi Kai (equestrian club) in the city, led a motorcade of some 200 vehicles, including trucks, ambulances, police cars, tourist buses and private cars before the brand-new road was opened to traffic at 3:30 p.m. [Photo] Local people dressed as mounted warriors lead off a motorcade celebrating the opening of the Abukuma-Higashi Road in Soma city on March 26. (Translated by Kyodo News)