Planning Rural Roads

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 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. It usually did not. Now too many rural roads, built to high standards, are little used 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. Training and funds are nearly always a key component of any project.

Diffusion of new approaches is proving 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. Facilitating the use of motor vehicles is the main consideration despite their rarity. Non-motorised users are seen as marginal. As a result alternative network or other investments ensuring greater mobility may be ignored.

This website has been set up to help planners and managers of rural road networks in developing countries to ask the many questions which should be asked in planning a program, to better appreciate the considerations which led them to being posed, and to take account of the growing body of knowledge about rural transport systems available on the Internet. It is a process, not a finished project.

It is centred on a discussion of five key questions.. These lead to short analyses of a number of related topics, such as environmental impacts and poverty reduction. Finally, I have also included some excursions along historical byroads.

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