This map is a simple schematic comparison of different countries’ expressway systems. All the countries and networks on the map are to scale. Routes shown in red were constructed within the last 10 years.
A few key notes:
China is by far the biggest builder. The National Trunk Highway System was intentionally modelled on America’s Interstate Highway System, down to the color of the road signs. However, the lanes are wider, the gradients are lower, the road bed is deeper and the speed limit is higher. The Chinese system is clearly built to carry the nation’s rapid economic growth into the heart of the country, inward from the coastal cities that so far monopolize the benefits of China’s newfound wealth. With 70,000 kilometers (45,000 miles) of new freeways in the last 10 years, the system has nearly tripled in length. If we were to consider highways built in the last 20 years, rather than just 10, virtually all of China’s network would be in red.
The United States has been resting on its laurels lately. The last great burst of Interstate construction was in the 1980s. Since then, only a few lines have been built, mostly in the southern and central areas of the country. The largest ongoing expansion is happening in southern Texas, with a proposed road going from Brownsville to Houston to Memphis. Many sections of the Interstate System are badly in need of repair, particularly in the Northeast—several sections of road in Pennsylvania and New York were hurriedly incorporated into the system without even meeting minimum standards, and those that did meet standards 40 years ago or more are rapidly deteriorating. While China and the United States have a similar length of expressways (as of 2015), a lot more of the US length is coiled in the cities (having been built earlier than China’s network), and not very distinguishable on the map.
Canada lacks the great, expansive freeways of its southern neighbor for practical reasons. The shortest driving route from Vancouver to Toronto actually goes almost entirely through the northern US, and Canadians are no newbies when it comes to using America’s interstates to get around. Thus, most of the expressways marked on the map only barely fit the definition; they consist largely of four-lane controlled-access roads separated by a grass median. Southern Ontario has the majority of Canada’s expressways that are 6 lanes or wider.
Russia’s situation is similar to China’s, with a rapidly changing infrastructure. Unlike China, the Russian government has not put as much initiative into creating an American-style national highway backbone. This is mostly because the transportation infrastructure was already adequately developed during the Soviet Era, relying on rail and air for long-distance travel. That said, many of Russia’s major highways have been reconstructed beyond the point of recognition, particularly the Don Highway from Moscow to Rostov. Russia’s current big expressway project is the Moscow-St. Petersburg route, to open in 2018.
Spain is noted for its recent highway expansion, just as Germany is noted for the stagnation of it’s world-famous Autobahn. Surpassing Germany and France, Spain now has the EU’s largest freeway network. This can be attributed to the fact that Spain has enough room to comfortably construct these highways, while denser EU nations simply cannot do the same. Italy was arguably the first country to construct expressways (even before Germany), but now lags behind due to the practicality of other modes of transportation.
In Asia, Japan and South Korea both have relatively dense networks, but both countries are hampered in achieving higher rankings due to geography. In Korea, the country’s small area means that the network of routes as it is today is just about fully saturated. Korea’s system, built mostly around the 1980s, unabashedly borrows all its design, technology and aesthetics from the American Interstate. Japan, a country dominated by mountainous terrain, is limited to dense clusters of routes in the major city lowlands.