Over three days and two nights, Wang, a truck-driver, managed to haul his coal-carrying truck over a grand distance of 10 km.

Mr. Wang’s truck, and hundreds of others, have, over the past 10 days, been slowly inching their way along the 110 Expressway, part of a 100 km-long convoy that, according to some reports, may perhaps be the world’s longest-ever traffic jam.

Since August 14, the 110 has become one big parking lot. The extreme congestion on the highway, which runs between Huaian in Hebei province, northwest of Beijing, and Jining in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, a coal-mining centre, is a result of maintenance work, necessitated by overloaded coal trucks that have damaged the road, and a rising demand for coal in China’s capital, officials said.

Infrastructure found wanting

The pile-up of trucks has brought traffic into China’s capital to a grinding halt. It has also ignited debate over the city’s urban planning, raising questions about whether its infrastructure is adequate for handling the growing number of cars and trucks that are added to its streets every year.

The number of vehicles in Beijing has increased by 1,900 a day on average in the first six months of this year, officials said at a recent transportation seminar. Beijing, like many of China’s big cities, has invested heavily on widening roads, building towering flyovers and expanding its subway system. It is, however, still struggling to keep pace with the surge of new vehicles.

China, with its fast-expanding middle-class, this year, overtook the United States to become the world’s biggest car market. In Beijing alone, a city of 20 million, the total number of vehicles is expected to hit 7 million by 2015. The city’s roads can accommodate 6.7 million vehicles.

Future plans

To ease the burden on the roads, the government is planning to invest 331.2 billion Yuan ($ 49.4 billion) in the next five years to expand its subway system by 850 km and increase the usage of public transport to 40 per cent.

Future plans, however, are little consolation for Mr. Wang and his companions, who have, since August 14, been surviving on packets of instant noodles and hot water, bought at inflated prices at a thriving black market that the pile-up has spawned. Villagers have poured in from nearby areas, setting up food-stalls and shops, looking to make a quick buck off the truckers’ misery.

They are showing little sympathy — a cup of hot water, one driver said, costs 2 Yuan (Rs. 14).

“It is not only the congestion that annoys me,” a driver named Huang told a local newspaper. “It’s all those vendors!”

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