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A Lineup of White Elephants

Massive public-works spending is one of the things that make Japan tick. But sometimes even the best-laid plans of bureaucrats go awry. Here is a sampling of some projects that have ended up on critics' white-elephant lists:

* Kasaoka, western Japan: A $4.96-billion agricultural airport, completed in 1991, lies all but unused. In 1995, 4 metric tons of agricultural goods passed through the facility, less than 1 percent of target goals. Five more such airports are under construction at a cost of $79 million.

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* Chita, central Japan: A $79-million road was intended to connect local farming communities and provide a way to transport farm goods, but there is little traffic along its 26 miles. Five hundred yards away, a parallel roadway is being expanded at a cost of $521 million.

* Yamagata, northern Japan: Near the top of a mountain lies a forestry road that begins and ends in a dirt track. Only half of the projected length has been completed during two decades of construction, in part because of frequently snowy conditions. So far it has cost nearly $165 million, part of a $7.8-billion project initiated in 1969 to build forestry roads all over the country.

* Fukui port, central Japan: Planned as the keystone of a coastal-industrial-zone project outlined in the late 1960s, the port features a 33-foot deep unloading wharf and other facilities. Because the anticipated industries haven't materialized, the $260-million port is mostly idle, although local anglers have made it a popular fishing spot.

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