South Korea's progress in infrastructure

Dr. Hyoseop Woo, P.E.
Senior Research Fellow
Korea Institute of Construction Technology
Koyang City, Kyeonggi-do, Korea

About forty years ago, remarkable industrialization and urbanization started in South Korea, and since then the nation has made impressive strides in building and maintaining a modern infrastructure. Their achievements span the types of physical infrastructure, and include impressive advances in information technology as well.

The United States and South Korea have maintained a close relationship for many years. The Korean Peninsula, divided along the 38th parallel, is about 1,000 km long and has 3,200 islands. South Korea occupies 45% of the land and is home to about 47 million people. The GDP per capita is about $10,000 and more than 85% of the country is urbanized.

Much of the progress in South Korean infrastructure is due to national programs led by the Ministry of Construction and Transportation, the Ministry of Environment, and the Ministry of Industry and Energy Resources. Their actions are guided by the "Comprehensive National Territorial Plan in Korea (2000-2020)," which is revised every five years.

South Korea's information technology initiative to build a "Digitalized Nation" has advanced rapidly. For individuals it provides information on health and medicine, education, culture, banking and entertainment. It also provides information for private enterprise and government. In 2002, 70% of the households, or about 10 million households, had ultra-speed Internet access. This level of access is unexcelled in the world. About 26 million people, or 55% of the population, use the Internet, and about 70% of the people use cell phones.

Transportation has been a major achievement in South Korea, including highways and expressways, railways, a seaport system, an airport network, logistics and urban transportation. Since the first expressway was completed in 1968, networks have expanded to a total length of 2,660 km. By 2020, a total length of 6,000 km is planned. Improvements have also been made in the capacity of highways as well as total length. At present, about 30% of the highways are four-lane.

The Kyeongbu (Seoul-Busan) High Speed Rail Construction Project. The KTX (Korea Train eXpress) has a route of Seoul to Busan with a total length of 412 km. The total project cost is about 15.3 billion USD and the Phase I (to be opened this April) cost is 10.6 billion USD. The maximum speed is 312 km/hr.

The first phase in Korea's high-speed railway network is the Kyeongbu Line connecting the capitol city, Seoul, with Daegu, the third-largest city, located in the southeast. It will be completed by April 2004 after more than ten years of construction and about $10 billion in cost. In total, Korean railways have been increased to 3,125 km, and should reach 5,000 km by 2020.

Seaports have been expanded to include a number of large local ports and the two important hub ports of Busan and Gwangyang. The latter hubs have a total capacity of 48 piers.

Key regional and local airports have expanded their runways, terminals, and service facilities. Now, Korea has one international hub airport, six international airports, and nine domestic airports. At present, three more airports are being constructed. The Incheon Airport, commissioned in 2001, is one of the largest in the world. It will be expanded, by 2020, to function as an international hub for Northeast Asia.

Korea has a centrally-planned logistics network. It includes large national logistics complexes, small inland logistics centers and regional logistics bases. All complexes, Inland Container Depots and Composite Freight Terminals are linked to railways and other transportation systems.

A rendering of the Incheon International Airport, one of the largest in the world.

Since 1998, the South and North Korean Governments have reconnected the highways and railways that were cut since the Korean War, more than 50 years ago. Six national highways and four railways are expected to resume service in the near future, and some are already under construction and will be completed by the end of this year.

Electric power capacity has also increased substantially. The total installed capacity increased from 9,400 MW in 1980 to 56,000 MW in 2003. Hydropower comprises only 6.9% of the total, nuclear power 28%, and the remainder is fossil-fueled power including coal, gas and oil. Gross generation increased from 37 billion kWh in 1980 to 306 billion kWh in 2003. The annual increase in power demand is about 10% over the last ten years. Construction of new power plants, especially nuclear and hydropower plants, has become difficult because of environmental forces and, in part, NIMBY.

Korea is in a monsoon region with much rainfall in the summer, including flooding, while rainfall is scarce in other seasons, causing shortages and water-quality deterioration. The water supply rate in urban areas is 98.5%, but the rate in rural areas is only 31%. These percentages are expected to increase, especially in rural areas. Regional imbalances in water resources have been remedied by connecting major watersheds through water transfer systems. These policies are guided by the "National Comprehensive Water Plan," which includes integrated dam management and desalinization as well as new dam construction. At present, South Korea has 14 multipurpose dams and 52 water supply dams. New dam construction, however, is difficult because of opposition from Non-Governmental Organizations and local residents.

Since most drinking waters are from surface sources, they are vulnerable to pollution. Groundwater, comprising less than 10% of total supply, is also vulnerable to pollution. During the last ten years, the government has invested about $1 billion to improve water quality, including new sewage treatment plants and pipes, improvement of existing plants and pipes, and stricter regulations. At present, about 76% of the sewage generated is treated.

About 80% of natural disasters are due to heavy storms, floods and the accompanying wind. Since the 1960s, 63% of the total river length (about 30,000 km) has been improved by channelization. Five flood-control centers have been created in the major river basins in Korea since the 1970s. In spite of these and increases in flood capacity of multipurpose dams, costs of natural disasters have not decreased and are at about $0.5 billion annually. In 2002, when typhoon Rusa hit the Peninsula, it caused a historic damage cost of about $4 billion in two days.

Korea has made remarkable progress in the development of infrastructure, achieving a "Miracle on the Hangang." The nation faces new challenges and needs new vision and strategy to ensure prosperity and increasing quality of life. This should include a new master blueprint to keep pace with the global community while resolving unbalanced development and environmental degradation. A principal challenge will be policies to lead to environmentally sound and sustainable development as they develop needed infrastructure, especially highways, railways, dams, and power plants.

Dr. Hyoseop Woo, P.E., is a Senior Research Fellow with the Korea Institute of Construction Technology ( He can be reached at

It's not too late to sign up for 2004 Mexican Public Works Conference

The 11th Annual Mexican National Public Works and Services Conference will be held May 19 to 22, 2004 in the beautiful Pacific Ocean resort community of Huatulco, Mexico. The exquisite five-star Barcel¢ Resort, situated on the beach in one of the nine spectacular "Bays of Huatulco," will host this year's conference.

This annual public works event is organized by the Asociacion de Municipios de Mexico, A.C. (AMMAC) and brings together public works officials and vendors from throughout Mexico to discuss technical and managerial issues affecting the delivery of public works and services in Mexico. APWA has actively participated in this conference for a number of years, with members both attending sessions as well as making presentations. Larry Lux, Director-at-Large, Public Works Management/Leadership, will be representing the APWA Board of Directors and APWA at this year's conference.

The AMMAC Public Works and Services Conference is a unique opportunity to learn about the challenges facing our Mexican counterparts as their country enters a new era of more open, democratic governance.

The resort community of Huatulco is the youngest of Mexico's five centrally-planned tourist destinations (the others being Cancun, Ixtapa, Los Cabos and Loreto). Huatulco is located in the State of Oaxaca, and stretches for 35 kilometers along nine picturesque Pacific Ocean bays at the foot of the Southern Sierra Madre mountains. Besides the standard beach resort amenities of fishing, windsurfing, scuba diving, snorkeling and the like, attendees can take advantage of the adjacent 18-hole championship golf course, resort facilities including tennis, saunas, pools and exercise rooms, or venture off into the nearby mountains and jungles for off-the-beaten-path excursions in the surrounding pristine environmental areas.

APWA members interested in attending or participating in the conference can contact Bob Kass, APWA/AMMAC Task Force Chair, at (408) 866-2150, or via e-mail at Vendors are particularly encouraged to take part in the conference's trade show.

For more information on Huatulco, visit or For information on the Barcelo resort, visit


The question of trust
In the book Christianity Confronts Culture by Marvin K. Mayers (Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), he identifies the primary question that should be posed in situations of cross-cultural communication. That question is the "question of trust": "Is what I am doing, thinking, or saying potential for building trust or is it potential for undermining trust?"

I recall my own efforts as the director of a community development project in West Africa. Slowly, through ceaseless struggle and effort, I had learned to overcome the day-to-day barriers that had previously seemed like the mud-brick walls that surrounded many of the huts and villages. I became an accepted part of "the bush" in Burkina Faso and had begun my study of the Mor‚ language. While working on a well-drilling project in the area, I learned the simple truism that trust must precede change. I focused on making friends with the villagers rather than on counting the number of wells we had dug. And, sure enough, the less I focused on the work, the more work seemed to get done, not only in well-drilling, but also in agricultural work, medical work, literacy work, and the construction of a 65-acre lake.

By asking myself the "prior question of trust," I was able to see goals accomplished and relationships built. Mayers does, however, caution against the overuse of the "prior question of trust." If used to excess, it can be perceived as manipulation and insensitivity. It is a process that is fundamental to successful relationships and enterprises, wherever they exist.

Contributed by Jimmy B. Foster, P.E., Director of Public Works, City of Plano, Texas, and Chair, APWA International Affairs Committee

Cultural Proverbs

"Several fingers are necessary to pick up a grain of rice." - Proverbes Populaires de Cote d'Ivoire

"The porcupine said, 'Because it is known, an old, ill-kept path is preferred to a well-maintained path that is unknown.'" - Proverbes Populaires de Cote d'Ivoire

"Do not protect yourself by a fence, but rather by your friends." - Czech Proverb