Photo/Illutration Vehicles travel along Kamaishi Expressway in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, after a ceremony marking its opening was held on March 9. (Kengo Kamo)

KAMAISHI, Iwate Prefecture--An expressway connecting Kamaishi, which was devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and Hanamaki, an inland city in the prefecture, fully opened on March 9, boosting rebuilding efforts in the region.

The newly opened section of the 80-kilometer Kamaishi Expressway is the 6-km stretch between Kamaishi Junction and Kamaishi Sennin Toge Interchange.

The opening coincided with the opening of the 14.6-km portion between Kamaishi Minami Interchange and Kamaishi Ryoishi Interchange, which forms Sanriku Expressway, running north to south in the coastal area.

Sanriku Expressway links to Kamaishi Expressway at Kamaishi Junction.

“The coastal and inland areas of Iwate Prefecture were connected by the expressway systems for the first time, and the prefecture is now integrated,” said Iwate Governor Takuya Tasso at a ceremony marking the milestone completion of the project in Kamaishi the same day.

The full opening of Kamaishi Expressway is expected to revitalize the local economy and ensure the smooth travel of spectators to Kamaishi as the coastal city will host Rugby World Cup 2019 matches in autumn.

The expressway project has been pushed by the government to rebuild the Tohoku region, which was severely impacted by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. Most stretches of Kamaishi Expressway are toll free.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who attended the March 9 ceremony, said the government will continue to support rebuilding efforts.

The transport ministry has been promoting the construction of four routes totaling 550 km together in the Tohoku region as part of assistance to the stricken areas.

The opening of the two segments marks the completion of 70 percent of the 550 km.