Thousands of Vehicles Stuck in 120km China Traffic Jam

BBC reports that another massive traffic jam is clogging roads in Inner Mongolia, just days after a widely-reported jam was eased:

A state television reporter said the gridlocked section of the road, in the north-eastern region of Inner Mongolia, resembled a “big car park”.

The majority of the vehicles stuck in the jam, which began on Tuesday, are coal trucks heading to the capital.

A 100km traffic jam that had lasted nine days on the same motorway was cleared just over a week ago.

The authorities say roadworks are to blame for the latest gridlock.

Yet other observers are blaming China’s reliance on coal for the traffic, as many of the trucks on the road are carrying coal out of Inner Mongolia. From the Foreign Policy blog:

But the jam also tells another story – of China’s growing appetite for coal, specifically steam coal used in power generation which China has in rich supply.

It’s small wonder there’s a jam. The G110 expressway that runs from the coal producing areas of Inner Mongolia to Beijing and on to other major cities on the eastern seaboard is designed to carry a maximum of 6,000 trucks a day.

According to a report from Deutsche Bank’s Daniel Brebner the road currently has to cope with 80,000. Reuters reports that 10,000 of those stuck in the jam are carrying coal.

An essay on NPR posits that a population tired of being stuck in traffic for days at a time (and breathing dirty air) may help shift China’s focus from coal to more sustainable forms of energy:

The U.S., Europe, their NGOs, their militaries, and their think tanks are fixated on the climate benefits of natural gas, alternative fuels, nuclear power, solar and wind. But meanwhile, China, like the rest of world, is still on a binge of so-called dirty fuel. As Bloomberg’s Matthew Carr writes, a plummet in global coal prices has underpinned a surge in coal demand, along with speculation by traders. That’s despite a similar plunge in natural gas prices that’s increasing its competitiveness with coal by power plants.

Coal’s plentitude and price make it too hard for many countries simply to give it up. As for what could force the issue, my own thinking is that China’s leaders aren’t politically suicidal — even if Beijing doesn’t accelerate a switch from coal for reasons of climate-change, it will eventually do so in order to appease its increasingly restive population, which has made it plain in recent months that it won’t tolerate runaway pollution.

See also “Thousands of trucks stuck in China traffic jam” from the Washington Post.

September 2, 2010 9:44 PM
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