Japan’s extensive highway network criss-crosses the mountainous country, with more than 1,500 tunnels. Around a quarter of these are more than 30 years old, according to the Transport Ministry.
The country is also prone to earthquakes and despite a tightening of safety regulations over the last 20 years, older structures could be vulnerable to the regular movements, experts have warned.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said the government had ordered immediate action to shore up the transport system.
“The prime minister ordered the transport ministry to do its utmost in the rescue operation, to find out the cause at an early stage, to take thoroughly preventive measures against similar accidents,” he said.
“We will have to make significant investment in public transportation systems and will need to ensure its durability. We need to review infrastructure as it ages.”
Japan had an infrastructure boom in the 1960s and 1970s as the economy went through a period of spectacular growth.
But experts warn that as they age, many of tunnels and bridges will need to be replaced — not an easy task for a government that already owes over twice what the economy is worth in a year.