Route 114 stretch in Namie town reopened after hiatus of 6, half years

21 September 2017

Motor vehicles began running freely on a portion of Route 114 in Namie town, Fukushima Prefecture, on Sept. 20 for the first time in about six years and a half since the 2011 nuclear accident. Of main roads connecting the Nakadori inland region and the Pacific coast, the Route 114 stretch was the last section where general vehicle passage was restricted due to still-high levels of radiation stemming from the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. With free transit resumed to Namie, a hub in the northern part of the Futaba district, parties concerned will seek to accelerate further reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear mishap.

Reopened was a Route 114 section of about 27 kilometers between Tsushima and Murohara, both Namie areas designated as difficult-to-return zones. Also opened to free traffic by ordinary vehicles at the same time were a stretch of some 200 meters on the Haramachi-Namie prefectural road and a portion of approximately 400 meters on the Soma-Namie prefectural road.

Previously, only townspeople and business operators with permits were allowed to use these road stretches from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Now, passenger cars and other four-wheeled vehicles are free to travel the areas all day, even though pedestrians and motorcycles remain unable to pass through them.

In July last year, the town petitioned the national government to resume free vehicle travel on Route 114 linking Namie on the Pacific coast and the inland prefectural capital city of Fukushima for such purposes as improving convenience of local residents plying between their residences and places of evacuation as well as business operators. The central and prefectural governments, police and other quarters concerned had since discussed the timing of resuming free vehicle passage and ways of preventing crime, among other issues. An evacuation order was lifted at the end of last March in Namie except in difficult-to-return zones, opening the way for road repair, establishment of barricades to side roads not subject to general vehicle traffic and other preparatory measures. Judging these measures had made headway, the authorities concerned decided to permit free vehicle transit on the Route 114 portion.

Work to decontaminate Route 114 areas involved in the resumed vehicle traffic was undertaken from June to November 2014. According to a national government radiation survey conducted in August ahead of the resumption of vehicle transit, the average accumulated dosage of exposure for a motorist traveling in a car at 40 kilometers per hour between Tsushima and Murohara was 1.01 microsieverts, or about a 59th the level of a chest X-ray. The government says it is “a level posing no health problems.” In the survey, midair radiation along the road was also measured. Its maximum reading was 5.53 microsieverts per hour, or an average hourly dosage of 1.85 microsieverts.

“With personnel exchanges and goods distribution becoming smooth, reconstruction will gain speed,” Namie Mayor Tamotsu Baba said, pinning high hopes on the effects of resumed vehicle traffic. “It will become a life-sustaining road used as an emergency evacuation passage, ambulance transport and other purposes.”

■East-west axis route almost restored

The free transit through the Route 114 stretch in Namie has almost restored a key east-west road link between the northern Futaba district and Nakadori region to pre-quake status.

According to the prefectural government, pre-disaster traffic volume was 6,502 vehicles per day in the Murohara area and 2,203 in Tsushima in fiscal 2010 through March 2011, showing the road played the role of a trunk route. The reopening of the road stretch is expected to help promote the establishment of designated reconstruction hubs planned in Namie’s three difficult-to-return zones -- Murohara, Obori and Tsushima -- set up after the nuclear accident as well as ramp up the flow of people and goods.

Evacuation triggered by the nuclear disaster was terminated in parts of the northern Futaba district but local reconstruction is still halfway, with the towns of Okuma and Futaba that host the crippled plant still wholly evacuated. Even in other municipalities where evacuation orders have been removed, they face challenging issues such as the restoration of medical and commercial facilities vital to step up the lasting return of evacuated residents. Municipalities in the northern part of the Futaba district want to fuel reconstruction moves in closer partnership with the central and prefectural governments along with the restoration of infrastructure systems being undertaken as national projects.

(Translated by Kyodo News)