Lhasa is China’s only capital city which has not accessed expressways by now. The total length of the Qinghai Tibet Expressway is 1,900 kilometers from Xining, capital of Qinghai Province to Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Since 700-kilometer-long section of the road has been finished, the remaining 1,100 kilometers from Golmud of Qinghai to Lhasa is expected to be built in this construction project. It is the last part of the Beijing-Lhasa Expressway in the entire national expressway network. Dubbed Network 71118, the national expressway network has seven routes radiating from Beijing, 11 routes from south to north and 18 routes from east to west.
Now the Chinese scientists are doing a research project on how to build expressways on the alpine area taking the Qinghai-Tibet Expressway as the target area. The middle part of the Qinghai Tibet plateau is situated at the altitude of over 4,500 meters with years of frozen earth, 50 percent of oxygen content and annual solar radiation of 8,000MJ/m2. Its average annual temperature is below zero and minus five degrees centigrade. Under such harsh natural conditions, we are trying to break the bottleneck of building expressways over 25-meter-wide roadbed and 80-centimeter-thick road surface in order to complete the opening of the national expressway network. To this end, we have to overcome the fragile ecological environment, sharp contrast in temperature, long-term temperature below zero and strong ultraviolet radiation.
Besides, with the global warming, the degradation of the frozen earth will surely affect the construction of the expressway in dozens of years, which remains a problem to be tackled. It is still a challenge in the world to build bridges and tunnels on the areas with frozen earth such as on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau.
Furthermore, we will take a full consideration of the conservation of its fragile environment in the construction of the expressway.
Compared with the Sichuan-Tibet Highway, the Yunnan Tibet Highway and Xinjiang Tibet Highway, the construction of the Qinghai Tibet expressway is less difficult due to its relatively flat terrain between the Kunlun Mountains and Tangula Mountains while the other highways all have to cut through many mountains, rivers and fracture zones. Of all the highways to Tibet, the Qinghai-Tibet Expressway is the shortest in mileage and the smallest in scale, and will be the lowest in cost and shortest in the period of construction.
In June 2013, the Qinghai Tibet Expressway has been included into the 12th Five-year Plan(2011-2015). It is an infrastructure with strategic importance. When it will be opened depends on the determination of the Chinese government and the technological support for building expressways on frozen earth. We are confident that we are capable to build this expressway thanks to our years of research results, which have also been tested in the construction of other roads such as the expressway from Gonghe to Yushu of Qinghai. It has boost our capacity in building expressways on the high altitude areas in freezing weather, improving service for transport safety and provide guidance for road designing as well as environmental protection.