People in Dulongjiang Village, most of them members of the Dulong ethnic group, were thrilled when they heard a deafening blast earlier this month. The blast marked the creation of a tunnel after more than three years' work, ending generations of semi-isolation for the Dulong people, who have long been walled in by mountains in southwest China's Yunnan Province. A highway, built in 1999, was the only link between their home and the outside, but transportation was cut off for at least half a year from November to May due to heavy snowfall on the mountains. The area's geographic isolation has made it one of the least developed parts of China, and the tunnel is seen as a solution to getting rid of poverty. The long-awaited highway tunnel was built as part of China's drive to ease transportation between less-developed rural and mountainous areas and the outside world in order to pull residents out of poverty and improve their lives. Investment in rural highway construction by the Chinese government reached 248.6 billion yuan (39.75 billion U.S. dollars) last year. The funds were used to build 210,000 kilometers of rural highway and renovate 42,400 kilometers of dilapidated highway, 3,110 dilapidated bridges and 1,589 piers in rural areas, according to official figures. The government also launched a three-year project in 2013 to build 290 bridges in seven provincial-level areas in southwest China, including Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces, where residents in remote areas traditionally cross rivers using bamboo or wire rope pulley systems. The project could benefit 958,000 residents in 904 villages, 658,000 of whom live in poverty. With China's poverty line drawn at an annual net income of 2,300 yuan last year, 82.49 million rural people were officially living in poverty in 2013, a drop of 16.5 million compared to 2012, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. In a written instruction to a work report on the country's development of rural highways on March 4 of this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, "Building a highway could open a door for poverty alleviation and prosperity, especially in some poor areas." Xi stressed the importance of improving transportation infrastructure to eliminate poverty during an inspection tour in central China's Hunan Province and called for enhanced efforts and support. The transportation network in China's rural areas has been improved through the construction of more highways and easy links between rural and urban roads. China now has 3.77 million kilometers of highway in rural areas, which can be accessed by 98 percent of the country's townships and 89 percent of its villages. Rural highways have served as engines for the country's agricultural development and a rise in farmers' income. Initial statistics show that thanks to the construction of rural highways in the past ten years, the income of farmers in east China's Zhejiang Province increased by 80 billion yuan, provincial GDP rose by 130 billion yuan, and about 300,000 jobs were created. About one-fourth of farmers living along highways in the province had expanded their cash crop planting area, leading to a growth in income.