URUMQI - Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region has invested heavily in road construction as part of a major effort to explore mineral extraction and tourism potential in its vast territory.
The region has already begun construction on 17 roads connecting Altay, Changji, Ili, Turpan and Kashgar so it can exploit abundant coal, crude oil, nonferrous metals and other mineral resources.
Among the projects is a 100-km expressway linking up with No 216 State Highway, the road connecting Altay to the regional capital Urumqi, as well as extensions of several provincial highways and an urban expressway in Urumqi, the regional transportation bureau said.
The construction of another six roads is set to begin later this month, the bureau said.
The new projects are aimed at improving infrastructure, speeding up economic growth and making big cities more accessible from rural areas.
The bureau said Xinjiang will spend 35 billion yuan ($5.36 billion) on adding 7,569 km of blacktop this year.
And the region has earmarked between 150 and 200 billion yuan for the construction of another 76,000 km of road during the coming five years.
Xinjiang's total road network will extend to 175,000 km by the end of 2015.
The autonomous region, which is home to about 21 million people, covers one-sixth of China's land territory and is the largest Chinese region.
The transportation bureau said road construction alone will create 338,000 jobs in Xinjiang this year.
"Meanwhile, these road projects will help increase locals' income by bringing in more tourists," the bureau said in a press release.
Herdsman Slanbek, who lives in Gongliu county in the Ili Kazakh autonomous prefecture, said he and his fellow villagers have been waiting for a road to better connect them to markets in large towns.
After witnessing the groundbreaking ceremony, he said he was looking forward to the future.
Han Tao, head of Keling township, Nileke county, agreed.
"We all expect the road to be built as soon as possible," he said. "Our county is rich in mineral resources and the road will help us transport mineral products and increase our income."
Xinjiang spent nearly 70 billion yuan during the period of the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) on improving its transportation system and building asphalt roads to each town and village.
Nur Berkri, chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, told China Daily in January that local people will not be sorry to see the days gone when villages and towns were poorly connected.
"Before that, rural people had to prepare two suits when they went to markets in towns and cities. One was dirty for village roads, the other was clean for city markets," he said.