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5th Ring Road
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5th Ring Road

Beijing's 5th Ring Road (pinyin: wu huan lu) is a ring road encircling the city about 10 km away from the city centre. It takes the form of an expressway (although it is being modified in part as a city express road) and is 98 kilometres in length. Being a ring road, it has no natural start or end point, although the "0 km" mark is found near the northeastern stretch at Laiguangying, at the intersection with the Jingcheng Expressway. The expressway ring road is a provincial-level road and is numbered S001.

All of Beijing's expressways, except for the Jingha Expressway, are interlinked with the 5th Ring Road. Being close to the Olympic venues for the games of summer 2008, it earns itself a nickname -- "Olympic Avenue".

Portions of the expressway have a maximum speed limit of 90 km/h, with the remainder imposing a speed limit of 100 km/h. There is a universal minimum speed limit of 50 km/h.

Six lanes (three up, three down) form the expressway ring road.

History

It was originally called the "1st Expressway Ring Road", as it would take the form of an expressway (and become the city's first expressway ring road). However, given the fact that the 2nd Ring Road, 3rd Ring Road and 4th Ring Road were in existence, re-ordering it as a ring road with a number value of 1, especially as it was outside the 4th Ring Road, looked odd. Therefore, it was renamed the 5th Ring Road, after some debate.

Work began soon and the first portion of the ring road opened in 2001, linking the Badaling Expressway with the Airport Expressway. Further stretches of the road were soon opened. By mid-2003, half of the ring road was open, from the western end connecting the West Chang'an Avenue to the interchange in the southeast with the Jingjintang Expressway.

The entire expressway was completed on November 1, 2003, with the intersections with Jingshi Expressway and Jingkai Expressway complete.

The 5th Ring Road is home to Shifeng Bridge. This bridge was built and actually had to be rotated after it was built to link the two ends of the southwestern 5th Ring Road together. Why all this work? Underneath the bridge ran several important rail lines, and they could not be interrupted while the bridge was being built, which made it impossible for Shifeng Bridge to be built like a normal bridge, which would have been being built in parts extending the expressway as it went along. The completion of this colossal work accelerated the completion of the entire ring road.

At night, Shifeng Bridge looks spectacular. It apparently is a trademark bridge of the expressway ring road.

Tolls?

When the 5th Ring Road was completed (and even while segments were already open to the traffic), the expressway became a toll ring road. The charge: 0.5 CNY per kilometre as a minimum for small vehicles (which would equate to just around 6 cents U.S.).

The charge, although small, seemed exorbitant for many drivers, who shied away from the expressway. Further protests derived from the apparent fact that drivers were being charged the full CNY 5 for just one kilometre of the road, from Yizhuang to the Jingjintang Expressway. Additionally, users of the Badaling Expressway and the Jingkai Expressway, which have toll gates within the 5th Ring Road, moaned about being charged twice - once for the 5th Ring Road, and once again for the expressway connecting the ring road.

Beijingers soon learned to avoid this priced path at all costs, preferring to sit out hours in jams on the 4th Ring Road and roads more central to Beijing. Thus, the 5th Ring Road became a virtually "wasted" ring expressway. As a result, this expressway was the subject of a heated debate in 2003. It seemed apparent that the 5th Ring Road was made just for those who could afford both the petrol and the tolls. Meanwhile, it became a kind of an unofficial test track for new drivers, who racked up spectacular (and, strictly speaking, illegal) speeds on the nearly empty expressway.

With Shoufa, the company running the expressway, unwilling to budge, standing firm to its view that the prices were authorised by the local Price Bureau, and with enough disgruntled Beijingers posting on message boards demanding the removal of the tolls, the authorities stepped in at the end of December 2003 and decreed that the road be made free on the first day of 2004. (At the same time, all charges for expressway exits within the confines of the 5th Ring Road were also done away with.) When the tolls were removed, usage of the 5th Ring Road gradually increased (although it did not explode overnight). The ring road previously managed with only 10% of its total designed capacity.

The expressway ring road, even without the charges, remains uncrowded today (except for when serious accidents occur).