In 2005 China had a total road network of more than 3.3 million kilometers, although approximately 1.47 million kilometers of this network are classified as “village roads.” Paved roads totaled 770,265 kilometers in 2004; the remainder were gravel, improved earth standard, or merely earth tracks. Highways (totaling 130,000 kilometers) were critical to China’s economic growth as it worked to mitigate a poor distribution network and authorities sought to spur economic activity directly.
All major cities are expected to be linked with a 55,000-kilometer interprovince expressway system by 2020. The highway and road systems carried nearly 11.6 billion tons of freight and 769.6 trillion passenger/kilometers in 2003. The importance of highways and motor vehicles, which carry 13.5 percent of cargo and 49.1 percent of passengers, was growing rapidly in the mid-2000s. Road usage has increased significantly, as automobiles, including privately owned vehicles, rapidly replace bicycles as the popular vehicle of choice in China.
In 2002, excluding military and probably internal security vehicles, there were 12 million passenger cars and buses in operation and 8.1 million other vehicles. In 2003 China reported that 23.8 million vehicles were used for business purposes, including 14.8 million passenger vehicles and 8.5 million trucks. The latest statistics from the Beijing Municipal Statistics Bureau show that Beijing had nearly 1.3 million privately owned cars at the end of 2004 or 11 for each 100 Beijing residents. Beijing currently has the highest annual rate of private car growth.