Mega Transport Projects as 
‘Agents of Change’

There is a need for a change of mind-set concerning the way in which MTPs are positioned, framed and planned.

The evidence collected from 30 case studies shows that Mega Transport Projects frequently become critical ‘agents of change’ that have multiple spatial, economic, environmental and other implications but the ability to change the context into which they are placed is often under-appreciated by decision-makers. This can result in unexpected/unintended consequences and project outcomes, both beneficial and/or problematic.

The research indicated that this finding reflects the rather narrow framing of many such MTPs solely as providers of transport infrastructure, as was the case (for example) for The Western Harbour Crossing in Hong Kong, HSL Zuid in the Netherlands, and the Athens Metro – which were all seemingly implemented without sufficient attention being paid to their potential capability to directly or indirectly stimulate urban regeneration and wider spatial and sectorial change. Conversely, projects such as the Hong Kong Airport Express, Tokyo’s Metropolitan Expressway and the Oedo Line, the Sydney Cross City Tunnel and Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) in southeast England were inherently positioned as components of broader agent of change strategies, albeit with varying degrees of success and over different periods of time. It should be noted, however, that ‘agent of change’ objectives were not always a part of the initial raison d’etre of such projects, as was the case of New York’s Air Train.

Channel Tunnel Rail Link

With these considerations in mind, MTPs therefore need to be seen as important ‘agents of change’ with such roles being taken into account during strategy formulation. It is here that it becomes very apparent that many such projects are not mega projects but programmes of a combination of mega projects (‘metaprojects’) that evolve over time and in different contexts. Sometimes these metaprojects become part of an emerging strategy/plan as an ‘agent of change’. On other occasions they develop on a more ad hoc basis, in response to changing forces.

The five-year study suggests that any new emergent ‘vision’ and related ‘emergent objectives’ associated with the transformational potential of a MTP/metaproject, needs to be stress-tested and future-proofed through the use of scenario-testing, involving key project stakeholders, so as to postulate potential changes (especially of contextual influences) over different time periods.

Mega Transport Project Consideration

MTP planning, appraisal and delivery agents therefore need to be clear about:

  • whether an MTP is expected to function as an ‘agent of change’, and if so, in what way
  • what sort of territorial, sectorial or other type of change it is expected to achieve
  • which forces of change the projects are trying to influence or harness
  • the relationship between ‘strategy’ and forces of change affecting sustainable growth, especially economic growth ambitions
  • the timeframe over which such change might be expected to take place given prevailing/forecast/scenario contextual conditions
  • the type of resources (financial, institutional, personnel, legal, etc.) and policy frameworks that are likely to be needed and over what period
  • what the potential boundaries (physical and otherwise) are against which to judge the MTP’s ‘success’.

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