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    Refuge of the roads

    This Asahi story (Japanese here) announces a major development:

    For the first time in Japan’s corruption-tainted, money-wasting highway construction industry, competition has arisen over contracts for an expressway project.

    Three expressway operators–East Nippon Expressway Co. (E-Nexco), Central Nippon Expressway Co. (C-Nexco) and Metropolitan Expressway Co. (Shutoko)–have applied to the land ministry for contracts to build a new section of the Tokyo Gaikan Expressway.

    The competition is expected to finally make expressway construction and maintenance more cost-efficient.

    Previously, the government had ordered one public expressway operator, including the mammoth Japan Highway Public Corp. (JH), to construct expressways.

    But JH came under heavy fire for bid-rigging scandals and other antitrust allegations.

    After JH and other related public organizations were privatized in 2005, private expressway operators were allowed to seek government contracts for expressway construction projects.

    E-Nexco, C-Nexco and Shutoko all emerged from the privatization process.

    The Japanese story contains this sentence, though:

    The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism will from here on be choosing the main operator based on its comprehensive assessments of, for each company, the amount of costs it will bear and its technological capabilities; but it has not been decided whether to use competitive bidding or a no-bid contract.

    The English version leaves off the no-bid part, but IIRC it affects how competitive the process actually is because it requires less transparency. The government could still award the contract to the one that’s best at string-pulling and back-scratching, not necessarily the one that seems to offer the best deal for the public. Well, that could happen with open bidding, too, probably, but the competitors would seem to have more maneuvering room.

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