What constitutes a ‘successful’ MTP in light of the challenges presented by the 21st Century?

Mega Transport Projects1 across the globe have aroused controversy concerning their ability to deliver the infrastructure, services and associated development they promise. Over the 10 weeks, this blog will feature a series of posts summarising key lessons and insight derived from an academic study of the planning, appraisal and delivery of 30 MTP case studies in ten different countries made by the OMEGA centre and it’s international research partners (OMEGA 2 Project). We hope to provide a platform for discussions among professionals, government officials and academics working in, or interested by, the field of mega transport projects and infrastructure development and we invite comments concerning the resonance of our findings with experiences in the field.

Global Location of the 30 omega case studies

Global Location of the 30 omega case studies

The posts will be extracts from the report, ‘Mega Projects – Executive Summary: Lessons for Decision-makers: An analysis of selected International Large-Scale Transport Infrastructure Projects’ which presents a selection of key findings of a five-year research study of Decision-Making in the Planning, Appraisal and Delivery of Mega Transport Projects (MTPs) funded by the Volvo Research and Education Foundations (VREF) with a view to foster institutional learning worldwide concerning decision-making in the planning, appraisal and delivery of MTPs.  Starting from the overarching question of:

What constitutes a ‘successful’ MTP in light of the aims of such projects and the anticipated challenges presented by the 21st Century?

the research focused on achieving a better understanding of decision-making of MTP projects based upon evidence collected from the 30 MTP case studies.

The OMEGA Centre investigation went well beyond the conventional concerns of completing such projects ‘on time, on budget and within technical specifications’ (often referred to as ‘Iron Triangle’) believing that judgements of project ‘success’ also require consideration of a wider range of matters including:

  • the projects’ ability to meet objectives that emerge over time and which ultimately impact on project outcomes;
  • changing societal, political and environmental values and priorities that evolve over time which further alter expectations of MTPs;
  • changing ‘visions’ among different stakeholders involved in MTP development; and
  • different values, priorities and expectations that prevail in different development and cultural contexts.

The study also investigated: How well has risk, uncertainty and complexity been treated in the planning, appraisal and delivery of MTPs?; How important is context in making judgements regarding ‘success’ and the treatment of risk, uncertainty and complexity?; and how well is sustainable development incorporated into MTP decision making (assuming the inter-related concerns of environmental, economic, social and institutional sustainability).

Against these principle research questions and hypotheses, the OMEGA 2 Project  yielded a number of significant contributions to the field of MTP development, which move significantly beyond the traditional concerns associated with project performance. These contributions take the form of lessons and suggested stakeholder actions, which help better define arenas of MTP activity. These lessons and actions should be placed at the heart of future decision-making if projects are to meet the growing and changing aspirations for achieving future sustainable economic, social, environmental and institutional development. This series of posts will concentrate on those principle findings considered to be of greatest generic significance for future MTP developments rather than seeking to reflect in-depth findings for each case study. However, readers should note the research was focused exclusively on projects in the developed world, which raises issues about their transferability to different contexts.

The 30 OMEGA Case Studies

The 30 OMEGA Case Studies. (2) It should be noted that whilst many of these projects were completed relatively recently, their planning and conception took place considerably earlier (1970s to early 1990s). Much of the discussion in this document thus refers to the often lengthy gestation periods that the case study projects experienced. (3) Adjusted to 2010 Prices (4) Whilst this project did not meet OMEGA’s cost criteria it was included in view of its’ iconic status and range of key impacts. (5) Whilst this project did not strictly meet the minimum cost criteria set, it was considered to be close enough to be included, on the grounds that it represented a critical piece of infrastructure for the territory

For the purposes of this research, MTPs are defined as land-based transport infrastructure investments within and connecting major urban areas and metropolitan regions in the form of bridges, tunnels, road and rail links, or combinations of these. They are projects that entail a construction cost of over US$1 billion (at 1990 prices), completed since 1990 and are frequently perceived as critical to the ‘success’ of major urban, metropolitan, regional and/or national development.

omega centre