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Overview of Korea’s development experience

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Development Overview
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Economic Infrastructure

Construction of the Gyeongbu national expressway

1 Background
 
Once the first Five-Year Economic Development Plan was securely on track and the first features of industrialization were created in Korea in the late 1960s, the amounts of industrial goods in transit multiplied explosively, raising the urgent need for expansion of transportation infrastructure.
Up until as late as the second Five-Year Economic Development Plan, policymakers had not considered construction of a national highway connecting Seoul to Busan. However, a survey performed by the Nedeko Investigation Group, commissioned as part of the human resources agreement that the Korean government signed with the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), revealed the pressing need for building and expanding the road network in Korea. The Nedeko group thus advised the Korean government to shift its focus from railways to vehicle roads, but without going into the specifics of building highways. The group merely addressed the need to build highways between Seoul and Incheon, and between Seoul and Suwon, before the implementation of the third five-year plan.[1]

The Korean government then began to consider the possibility of extending the nation’s highway network. The Ministry of Construction surveyed the possibility of constructing highways that would extend 1,138 kilometers in total and link Seoul and Busan, Seoul and Incheon, Seoul and Gangneung, and Daejeon, Gwangju and Yeosu, in hopes of securing the international loans necessary for the construction of the Seoul-Busan highway.[2] The idea of highways, however, was quite unpopular among policymakers and the general public alike at the time. This negative sentiment, coupled with the massive, almost prohibitive amount of funds required for such an undertaking, prevented the Ministry’s plan from developing further.

Nevertheless, the construction of the Gyeongbu National Expressway, linking Seoul and Busan, appeared as part of the campaign promises of President Park Chunghee in 1967, spurring serious debate. Proponents argued that highways were crucial for expediting the processes of modernization and industrialization, and also for the development of rural, farming communities by narrowing the distances between those communities and cities. In other words, it was charismatic political leadership that transformed the image of national highways in popular opinion overnight.

 
[1] Kim Jeong-ryeom, Three Decades of Economic Policymaking in Korea, Seoul: The Joong-ang Ilbo Publications, Oct. 1990, pp. 231-232.
[2] In Support of Building a National Expressway Linking Seoul and Busan, Ministry of Construction and Korea Expressway Corporation, July 1974, p. 43.


Source: Korea International Cooperation Agency. 2004. Study on Development Aid and Cooperation for South Korea: Size, Scope and Exemplary Effects. Seoul.