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Asphalt? Concrete? Either way, this road to Beijing buckled under because vehicles consistently exceed the 4-ton weight limit. Photo: AP/Alexander F. Yuan

When times were better, some construction equipment operators traveled the country, using their specialized skills to follow warm weather all year round.

If you're an engineer and, like me, think the lifestyle offers a certain open-road romance, consider taking your show on the road — to China. Because judging by persistent congestion on at least one of the highways connecting the capital of Beijing to the rest of the country, you'll have job security for years to come.

Heck, you don't even have to be an engineer. In a country where half the drivers have been licensed for less than five years, the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau acts as a sort of motor vehicle licensing center. In addition to building and maintaining roads, the bureau teaches basic driving skills such as how to read a highway sign, how to report an accident, and how to pass other vehicles.

According to the Beijing Transportation Research Center, almost 2,000 new vehicles hit the city's roads every day. So it's not hard to imagine how scheduled repairs to one part of the network could strangle traffic flows 60 miles away. Authorities restrict driving to every other day based on whether license plates contain even or odd numbers, but obviously that's not enough to stave off levels of congestion inconceivable to North Americans.

You could teach your colleagues in the world's second-largest economy (after the United States) the benefits of repairing roads at night, closing roads entirely to speed up repairs, or charging user fees. OK, so we're not a model example of the latter, but China should definitely consider it; part of the reason for the days-long gridlock last month that captured the world's attention (see caption) was that a larger-capacity route charges drivers based on vehicle weight and travel distance.

On the other hand, much Chinese media is government-controlled, so who knows what kind of public-awareness campaigns you could launch. Try as I might, I couldn't find the snarl on Beijing's real-time traffic information map. Maybe it's because the gridlocked area was outside the city. Or maybe, as National Broadcasting Co.'s bureau in China reported, the jam wasn't nearly as extensive as reported. Police mobilized at toll booths, weigh stations, and entrance ramps to reroute and otherwise disperse vehicles.

Like the United States, China requires infrastructure agencies to study the environmental ramifications of proposed roads, though I have no idea how that country's rules and regulations compare to ours. Go and find out!

Or stay here and fight the good fight; i.e., stretch as much life out of existing assets. And consider picking up Tom Vanderbilt's 2008 book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). It's a fascinating read.

Stephanie Johnston,
Editor in Chief