Route 114 stretch in Namie town seen open to traffic this fall

Namie town in Fukushima Prefecture is poised to begin consultations with the central government soon on a plan to have a section of Route 114 in the municipality opened to general traffic as early as this fall. The town revealed its intentions at a meeting of all municipal assembly members on June 27. Local residents and other designated parties concerned are allowed to use the stretch of road during daytime only, but vehicles from outside areas are barred. Calls have grown for improving access to the town. If the section of road is opened to general traffic, area residents expect to see an improvement in the flow of people and goods between the Futaba district, which includes Namie, and the northern part of the prefecture including the prefectural capital of Fukushima, helping accelerate reconstruction from the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear accident. The national government has prohibited ordinary vehicles from traveling on the 27-kilometer stretch between the town’s Murohara and Tsushima districts, both designated as “difficult-to-return” zones due to still-high radiation levels stemming from the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. At the meeting held in the town office, municipal authorities expressed the intention to have the traffic ban lifted around this fall by invoking a special system of transportation under which vehicle travel through difficult-to-return zones becomes possible if the central and prefectural governments as well as all 12 municipalities where evacuation areas were set up after the accident agree. Town officials also told the meeting that they hope to expand gradually the scope of free access to prefectural and municipal roads that deviate from Route 114 to other municipalities such as Futaba town and the villages of Iitate and Katsurao by applying the special system to them. Meanwhile, some assembly members attending the meeting called for greater focus on crime prevention measures because a large, unspecified number of people will be able to enter difficult-to-return zones. In reply, town officials said they plan to set up barricades at the entrance to side roads that are not subject to general vehicle traffic, install more security cameras capable of identifying license plates and strengthen anticrime patrols. The Route 114 portion passing through the difficult-to-return zones in Namie is open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. to drivers with permits, including local residents and workers engaged in reconstruction projects. Cleanup operations along the stretch of road were completed in November 2014. According to a central government survey, the average radiation dosage exposure for a motorist traveling at 40 kilometers per hour was 1.27 microsieverts, or a 47th of the level of a chest X-ray. After the meeting, Namie Mayor Tamotsu Baba told Fukushima-Minpo Co., “We'd like to realize open transit along Route 114 and thus hasten reconstruction.” Since the Great East Japan Earthquake, ordinary vehicles have been forced to make long detours when moving between Fukushima city and Namie by traveling along Route 6, which runs north to south along the Pacific coast, either from Route 115 that stretches east to west to the north of Namie or from the Haramachi-Kawamata prefectural road south of Route 115. If passage through the Route 114 portion in Namie becomes possible, it will reduce travel time between Fukushima and Namie by around 30 minutes, bringing townspeople great benefits such as a better medical care environment, including improved access to Fukushima Medical University. The government terminated last spring a residency restriction zone and a zone preparing for the lifting of an evacuation order in Namie, both set up following the nuclear accident. The move has prompted some local residents to call for free travel through Route 114 to help promote reconstruction further. In the Yamakiya district of Kawamata town, which Route 114 runs through from Namie in the southeast, town officials and other parties concerned anticipate an increase in the flow of people and subsequent regional revitalization if free passage is permitted on the Namie stretch. In Katsurao village adjacent to Namie, no vehicle access is allowed -- with the exception of emergency vehicles -- on Route 399 connected to Route 114 because Namie’s Tsushima district where both roads cross remains a no-go zone. Some villagers are calling for ordinary traffic to be allowed to pass along Route 399. (Translated by Kyodo News)