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China overextends on urban infrastructure

A construction site in Luliang, China was desolate earlier this year. (Kyodo/Landov)

In the Chinese city of Luliang, it’s possible to drive on the wrong side of the expressway to the airport without triggering a collision. That’s because there are barely any vehicles on the road.

Frank Langfitt reports for NPR that the city is emblematic of how China builds more roads, bridges and airports than some places need. When Langfitt visited Luliang, a sparkling new US$160 million airport that opened in 2014, it was mostly empty. The airport handles only three to five flights per day.

While China’s high-speed rail system is among the investments hailed as successes, there are plenty of “white elephants” like those in Luliang, NPR says. Many projects are approved to boost a region’s economy. In poorer cities, infrastructure may go unused if residents can’t afford vehicles or airline tickets.

Wade Shepard, author of Ghost Cities of China, notes that barren urban developments can suddenly spring to life. This occurred recently when he visited what he thought was an uninhabited metropolis near Shanghai. “We’re walking around and — oh, no, all of a sudden, I see cars,” Shepard told NPR. “There are people!”


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