01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17   next
Joining the sparsely populated Toyama and Gifu prefectures in central Japan, the 185-km-long Tokai Hokuriku Expressway cuts through the Tateyama mountain range and is scheduled for completion in 2007. It provides much-needed access between the large cities on the southern coast and ports to the north on the Sea of Japan. Older roads, with miles of tunnels barely wide enough for two small cars to pass, have hindered overland transportation of freight and further isolated a region dubbed "the Japanese Alps."

Built with massive government funds distributed on the basis of geography rather than population, the highway uses elaborate hillside cuts in favor of tunnels to negotiate the steep topography. These video stills were shot along a 15 km stretch -- the Gokayama Interchange -- which in 2000 was one of the first sections to be completed. It therefore served as a sort of laboratory for civil engineering techniques to be used elsewhere on the Expressway. Over twenty distinct types of concrete retaining walls can be found on this section alone, each responding to extreme drainage, soil and topographic conditions.

--Hugh Hynes