Planning rural roads in developing countries

This website has been set up to help planners and managers of rural road networks in developing countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, to ask the many questions which should be asked in planning a program, to better appreciate why they should be posed, and provide access to the growing body of knowledge about rural transport systems now available on the Internet.

The need to build or improve as many rural roads as possible to the best technical standards went unquestioned by governments and donors until recently. Justification was often seen as a troublesome formality and evaluation models were valued more for their complicity in providing the answers people wanted rather than for their rigour. It was implicitly assumed that a pent-up demand was out there which would generate ever-growing numbers of larger vehicles or even that somehow development would spontaneously come into being once the road was built. But it usually did not. Now too many rural roads, built to high standards, are little used, dilapidated, or even closed, since no money was left to maintain them.

We must now look more closely at the conditions which determine the viability and sustainability of rural roads. Remember that they are not an end in themselves but rather a component of a rural transport system, one of many ways of making people more mobile and services more accessible Ignoring the links between roads, mobility and accessibility leads to yet more unused roads and wasted funds. Again, for a road to be sustainable, its maintenance must be undertaken by those who have the knowledge, funds and motivation to carry it out. Systematic training in managing and executing maintenance work allied to guarantees of regular and predictable funding are essential to success. Too often in the past one or the other were neglected.

Diffusion of this integrated approach has proved to be slow and erratic. Planning of rural roads is often still centred in public works departments who do not have the mandate or incentive to explore other than technical questions. The rural transport system of which roads are a component is rarely looked at in any detail, since facilitating the use of often rare motor vehicles is the main consideration. Non-motorised users are seen as marginal. As a result investments providing greater accessibility are often ignored. However, many countries in Asia and Africa are now adopting a more coherent institutional approach to rural road network planning.

The site pivots on six key questions for transport planners. These lead to short analyses of related topics linked to external sites for those who want more detail . Finally, since history does actually repeat itself, I have included excursions along historical byroads, although not always in the same tone of high seriousness. There are even videos, sometimes barely pertinent.

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