BEIJING (AFP) - - China on Thursday will inaugurate one of the world's longest bridges, which will provide an important new route into Shanghai, state press said.

Presented as the "world's longest sea bridge", the 36-kilometre (22-mile) structure connects Jiaxing city near Shanghai to the port city of Ningbo in the eastern province of Zhejiang.

It is slightly shorter than the 38.4-kilometre Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge in the southern United States, which is often billed as the world's longest.

The 11.8 billion yuan (1.7 billion dollars) bridge will cut the length of the road trip from Shanghai to Ningbo by 120 kilometres, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Construction of the six-lane bridge started in November 2003 in an effort to reduce traffic congestion in the booming area, Xinhua said.

An opening ceremony will be held on Thursday afternoon, it said, and the bridge will open to traffic on a trial basis at midnight.