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Holiday starts in gridlock for Chinese travelers

By Madison Park and Tian Shao, CNN
updated 3:45 AM EDT, Mon October 1, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chinese roadways were jammed Sunday with 85 million travelers
  • Boost of traffic attributed to toll-free expressways on holidays
  • Chinese authorities anticipate 740 million trips over 8-day holiday

(CNN) -- The first day of China's autumn holiday came to a snarling halt for motorists.

Chinese officials estimate more than 85 million travelers hit the road Sunday, the first day of an eight-day holiday week, according to China's state-run media. Many drivers were trying to take advantage of a new policy that waives the toll on expressways during holidays, according to Xinhua.

This could've helped boost road traffic by 13% compared with last year's holiday, reported the news agency.

Sunday was the official start of the Mid-Autumn Festival, an eight-day stretch of lunar festivities celebrated with family gatherings, meals and mooncakes, a traditional dessert. Chinese officials estimate there will be 740 million trips throughout the holiday.

Man helps Chinese cross streets safely
Hong Kong's Mooncakes with modern twist

Fueled by an increase of cars, motorists encountered long delays, as well as traffic accidents, including a collision of a tour bus on the Beijing-Tianjin highway that killed five Germans and one Chinese person Monday morning, as reported by Xinhua.

Photos showed stretches of parked cars dotting roadways and motorists standing outside their cars. Trails of cars extended as much as six miles to a toll gate, according to CCTV, the state-owned broadcaster. Motorists told the Chinese television station that they were only able to drive about 18 to 24 miles per hour in traffic.

The topic "held up on the highway" on Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblogging site, generated over 77 million posts.

While stuck in gridlock Sunday, some people got creative by walking their dogs, doing push-ups and playing impromptu games of roadside tennis, according to photos compiled by Tea Leaf Nation, a blog that focuses on China.

Li Daokui, the director of the Center for China in the World Economy at the Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management, questioned the wisdom of no tolls on holidays.

"Highway toll free on holidays? We are making a world record of stupidity by launching this policy. To price is a social coordination mechanism and going free of charge is like a shout-out to the public: '1,2,3, let's go jam the road!'" he posted on weibo.

Traveling during the holidays on the train proved to be no easy task at Hefei.
Traveling during the holidays on the train proved to be no easy task at Hefei.

The traffic is not likely to ease around Beijing Monday, as almost all highway exits around the Chinese capital are expected to be jammed until midnight, according to the Beijing News.

Congestion has become a common problem in China. In 2010, a traffic jam stretched more than 62 miles on the National Expressway 110, during construction work of another road that ran parallel. Drivers were forced to sit in what turned into a parking lot and fumed over price gouging by nearby food vendors. That traffic jam lasted over a week.

But holiday traveling may not be easier on public transportation, reported Xinhua. Authorities are expecting over 75 million rail passengers over the holidays, with most routes already sold out. Photos showed crowded rail stations stuffed with passengers and suitcases lining the platforms.

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