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Aurelio Menéndez: Helping clients incorporating new ideas in expressway network

TansFORM is publishing a series of interviews with senior specialists from the World Bank, looking at China’s rapid development in the transport sector and the role the bank has played over a course of 30 years. They will share their insights on the experience and lessons China has learned.

I worked in China from the beginning to 2005 to 2009 as the lead transport specialists for East Asia and the Pacific. I was involved in initiatives to develop expressway network in the provinces of Anhui, Fujian, Shanxi and Hubei. In those provinces, the government of China requested the World Bank to support the different segments of expressways development program that they had at that moment. We also worked with the Ministry of Transport in initiatives to strengthen the overall capacity, as well was the transport services along the expressways.

In one project in Fujian province, there was a large programme to enhance and rehabilitate the rural road network in the province, in addition to build a 200-km new expressway segment. The particular component was designed in what was called Sector-wide Approaches, which was a precursor of what we have now as Rrogram-for-Results. We had to work with the counterparts in Fujian province to define how to use their own systems in the design and implementation of the rehabilitating the rural road network.

Through those improvements, we were able to facilitate the accessibility of a large number of rural population originally located in the poorer areas of Fujian province. I think it had a poverty [elimination] impact, at the same time it offered a different way of engaging with the counterparts of Fujian province to deliver our support.

Tapping on external resources and incorporating new ideas

At that time, the Chinese [counterparts] did not favor to include a large technical assistant component as part of the projects. We tried to engage and tap on external resources, bringing the expertise from other countries that could demonstrate to them how the road network management was being done in other countries.

In Fujian, we requested support from specialists in Latin America, who were familiar with the mechanisms of engaging micro-enterprises for the maintenance of the network. And we were able to give them a framework of how to proceed.

Meanwhile, [we brought in] the whole concept of the social and environmental impact of expressway. I think it was important for them to take that on because the projects we supported in China was a very small percentage of the overall investment plan. It was a way for them to learn about initiatives in other countries that the World Bank had been working on.

There was a very good exchange of idea on occupational health and safety considerations of contract, which is now becoming a very critical issue for the World Bank.

That was also true for the work we’ve done on urban transport projects. In a project in Wuhan, Hubei province, we helped them to incorporate new ideas in urban mobility. At the initial design, they were putting emphasis on the private automobile, also intending to build parking facilities in the center of the city. We showed them what we were doing in other places and why we thought that we should focus on public modes of transport.

Strong capacity to deliver

One of the things that impressed me most during my years in China was the capacity to deliver. It came from the institutional capacity of the provincial transport departments. They did have a very large pool of specialized engineers able to prepare the projects with good design in spite of the complexity. For instance, in the case of Shanxi, there was a 200-km expressway going from Ankang to the border with Hubei. I expected the design was goint to take two or three years to complete, but to my surprise, they were able to deliver in six months.

The linkage of the public sector with the professional, academic institution was a very interesting aspect that was working very well in China.

It is also important to highlight that China’s five-year plans helped to establish priorities for the medium terms, without changes along the way. That facilitates the allocation of resources and the implementation of the project. In addition, there was an interesting incentive framework for the provinces to deliver on the targets they had agree with in with the national government.