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Options for Managing Small Road Networks

Small road networks are a characteristic of small to large towns and rural areas. There are four main ways of strengthening management of such networks by: (i) creating a special purpose central government agency to manage the road networks on behalf of local government; (ii) by creating a project implementation agency and delegating some, or all, of the management functions to them; (iii) establishing a joint services committee to manage the roads on behalf of several local government road agencies; and (iv) contracting out the management function to a firm of consultants, or a concessionaire. Each is briefly summarized below.

Centralized Management. Some countries have established special central government agencies to manage their urban road networks. This has been done in Ghana where the Department of Urban Roads (DUR) manages urban roads on behalf of the municipalities. Although such arrangements provide economies of scale, access to technically qualified staff at the central government level and access to the central government budget, it moves the decision making process away from the local government level. Common problems encountered include: (i) local communities are not sufficiently consulted about priorities; (ii) local communities become unwilling to accept responsibility for any maintenance; and (iii) little effort is made to strengthen local governments to enable them to manage their own road networks. Since the local road agencies are by-passed, the above arrangements tend to further weaken local capacity. This option is therefore not sustainable in the long term and should only be viewed as a temporary solution. For a detailed description on options for managing rural roads through a central government department, see Rural Transport (you will now be directed to the World Bank Rural Transport website).

Project Implementation Unit. This arrangement is being used extensively in francophone Africa where it is know as AGETIP. The organization is a private, not-for-profit project implementation unit (PDF35KB), primarily set up to execute donor-financed infrastructure projects. The agency works on behalf of local governments who delegate certain functions to it. The local government usually reserves the right to select the projects and the agency then: (i) recruits consultants to carry out detailed engineering; (ii) invites bids and awards contracts for supervision and works; and (iii) manages the contracts and pays the contractors directly from a special account opened in its own name. The advantages of the AGETIP are that it gets around cumbersome government procurement procedures, streamlines payment procedures and pays market-based wages. Since the agency works for several local government organizations, it has a reasonably large workload that justifies employing a reasonable number of technically qualified staff. The disadvantages are that the arrangement is not subject to competitive bidding, it is almost entirely dependent on continued donor funding and it probably hampers development of the local consulting industry. AGETIP nevertheless has a role to play, particularly as an interim solution in economies where the local consulting industry is relatively undeveloped. The AGETIP arrangement could also evolve towards a regular contractual arrangement awarded on the basis of competitive bidding. For a detailed description of how project implementation units are used to manage rural roads, see Rural Transport (you will now be directed to the World Bank Rural Transport website).

Joint Services Committees. This is an arrangement in which several local government agencies cooperate to procure goods and services on behalf of all their members. It is fairly common in industrial countries, as well as in countries like Jordan. It has also been used by some urban District Councils on the Copperbelt in Zambia. The joint-services committees are used mainly to acquire scale. By pooling their resources, individual agencies are better able to plan and manage their affairs and let larger and more cost-effective contracts for procuring goods and services. The group of local government agencies generally assign the task of organizing procurement and contract supervision to one of their members, to a higher level of government, or to a local consultant (see Contracting Out below). The collaborative arrangement could be informal, although it must usually take the form of a written agreement when the joint services committees becomes involved in activities like road maintenance.

Contracting Out Planning and Management of Roads. This is an increasingly popular option. It involves contracting out planning and management of roads (PDF 20KB) for the entire (small) road network under the jurisdiction of a local government road agency. In industrialized countries, it is generally done to increase efficiency and reduce costs. In developing and transition countries, it is mainly done to ensure that small urban and district road networks are managed by a competent body which remains answerable to the local district council. These arrangements offer great potential for dealing with small road networks.

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