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Infrastructure blog

What’s standing in the way of better transport planning?

10 November 2023

Transport expert Jagoda Egeland explains why transport planning needs a strong evidence base and top-down approach.

What’s standing in the way of better transport planning?
A ‘decide and provide’ approach coupled with strong governance frameworks will result in better outcomes from transport infrastructure. Image credit: Shutterstock

In a changing world, governments need ease, pace, and clarity to identify their infrastructure needs and translate these into a pipeline of projects.

Earlier this year, we sat down for a chat with Jagoda Egeland, co-head of the International Transport Forum (ITF) Research Centre at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Jagoda has been part of the Enabling Better Infrastructure (EBI) programme since its launch in 2019.

She continues to play an active role as chair of the working group set up to advise on updates to EBI guidance.

She’s also been a guest speaker at our events.

During our chat, Jagoda reflected on her involvement in strategic planning over the last decade.

She highlighted some of the key challenges associated with identifying needs and translating them into the pipeline of projects in the transport sector.

What’s your main motivation for working in strategic infrastructure planning?

JE: Our main goal at the ITF is to improve citizen wellbeing by helping our member countries deliver better transport through enhancing its sustainability.

Building on this, my motivation stems from infrastructure’s role in improving well-being.

For example, if urban transport infrastructure is planned right, people can enjoy quieter, less congested cities with better air quality.

People outside urban centres can also have better access to services and opportunities and businesses have better access to markets and customers.

What’s your greatest professional achievement when it comes to transport planning?

JE: In 2016, I helped convince ITF member countries to start a working group to discuss how decisionmakers can take a longer-term approach to investing in transport infrastructure.

This was the first programme at the OECD to include a top-down, cross-sectoral perspective on infrastructure planning.

Its key goal was to help decisionmakers look beyond short-term political cycles.

I feel this work has become far more important post the Covid-19 pandemic.

What changes would you like to see in transport planning over the next 10 years?

JE: In the transport industry, we always talk about how governments need to move from a ‘predict and provide’ to a ‘decide and provide’ approach.

This means establishing a national vision for the future and deciding how to bring it to light.

While this is a step in the right direction, it won’t make a difference if plans don’t translate into action.

To help achieve that, governments should consider taking steps to establish governance frameworks around independent institutions.

This allows them to assess transport needs to guide investment and measure government performance against set goals.

What barriers do policymakers face when planning transport infrastructure?

JE: Many governments still face challenges in attracting enough investment for transport projects.

Sometimes this is due to them being unable to stay the course when it comes to long-term investments.

Moreover, policymakers often struggle to convince politicians that retrofitting the existing transport assets may be a better solution than pouring concrete into the ground.

For example, during the pandemic, we saw many cities repurpose roads to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians.

This showed the value of changing how we use infrastructure to maximise its outcomes.

Maintenance is also a concern in the transport sector.

So often we have ambitious plans to build new assets, but not the funding to maintain them.

How should policymakers change their approach to ensure social and environmental outcomes are achieved on transport projects?

JE: Great question. Getting the environmental and social proposition right can boost the value derived from transport projects.

It’s incredibly important that transport planning rests on a framework that incorporates a needs assessment and appraises different options for investment.

Right now, many countries have appraisal frameworks in place. But they need to think carefully about whether they account for all impacts at a local, national, and international level.

There are ways of improving appraisals to account for a greater range of effects.

If you get this right, you will have a much better idea of what kind of outcomes each of the transport option might deliver.

Finally, how do you predict that strategic infrastructure planning in the transport sector will change over the next 10 years?

JE: It’s difficult to answer this question with certainty.

That said, it’s clear to me that global and overarching challenges, like the climate change imperative, will move governments towards more comprehensive, cross-sectoral planning strategies.

Planning inside sectoral silos will be ineffective in dealing with systemic challenges and risks.

What I would like to see in the future is that emerging policy is informed by a strong evidence base.

And, that ambitious, top-down approaches are coupled with input from local stakeholders throughout the entire planning process.

Enabling better infrastructure

Infrastructure planning in a changing world is a difficult task, but new ways of working provide an opportunity for continuous improvement.

Reflection and review are an essential feature of the Enabling Better Infrastructure (EBI) programme.

EBI helps policymakers achieve better infrastructure outcomes for communities through open dialogue and tailored guidance.

This guidance shows how governments can establish a long-term national vision to boost infrastructure development.

To find out more, please read our EBI report.

  • Adina Nembhardt, EBI programme researcher at ICE