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Megaregions: Literature Review of the Implications for U.S. Infrastructure Investment and Transportation Planning

Section III. A Historical and Contemporary Perspective

3. Profiles of Megaregional Activities Abroad

a. The Trans-European Transport Networks (TENs-T)
Having grown out of an economic pact between six countries to share certain resources in the 1950s, the European Union is now a super-governmental structure which imposes common law, regulates commerce, and acts as the foreign-policy representative for 27 countries. It would not be entirely accurate to regard the relationship between the EU and its member countries as identical to the relationship between the U.S. federal government and the states. Moreover, in EU parlance "region" has a specific meaning: all territory under the jurisdiction of EU members is divided into administrative regions that are eligible for financial and employment assistance. Nevertheless, recent developments in European transport policy suggest what it might be like to think about transport on a megaregion scale.

Americans mostly familiar with western European cities, with their greater reliance on light rail to travel within the city and heavy rail to travel outside it, may be surprised to learn how dominant the car has become in European transport. While the number of passenger-kilometers traveled on western Europe's rail networks increased by more than 50 percent between 1970 and 2003, during that same time period passenger-kilometers traveled by private car increased by more than 150 percent (European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT), 2005). Between 1950 and 1985, the rate of car ownership in western Europe rose from 22 per 1,000 population to 353 per 1,000 population (Ross, 1998). The EU-15 (the 15 countries, mostly in western Europe, who joined the EU between 1957 and 2004) saw their road network increase from 15,935 km (9,901 mi) in 1970 to 49,024 km (30,642 mi) by 1995. This has led to concerns on the part of the EU about increasing modal imbalance, with potential negative social, environmental, and economic consequences (Ross, 1998).

In the last decade, the EU has become more assertive in advancing a common transport policy. This is in part due to the growing awareness of the disproportionate environmental harm of certain transport modes. 28 percent of the EU's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2000 could be attributed to transport; of that, 84 percent could be attributed to road transport (European Commission, 2001). At that time, road transport accounted for 44 percent of the EU's goods transport market and 79 percent of its passenger transport market (European Commission, 2001). Moreover, air pollution, in the form of particulate matter, is blamed for an estimated 350,000 annual premature deaths in Europe (Commission of the European Communities (CEC), 2006). The 2001 White Paper on European transport policy describes sustainable development as a "lever" towards a common transport policy (European Commission, 2001).

The EU regards transport policy, economic growth, and sustainability as interlinked: more growth will mean more demands on transport infrastructure, which could in turn mean more environmental harm if the environment is not taken into consideration well in advance of growth. The European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP), formulated in 1999, expresses a hope that greater accessibility will allow for greater economic competitiveness and thus more opportunity for economic growth. Thus transport planning is linked with two of the three fundamental EU goals: economic competitiveness and environmental preservation.

So far the most ambitious EU initiative towards a common transport policy has been the Trans-European Transport Networks (TENs-T). The TENs-T are a series of transport infrastructure projects proposed by the EU to facilitate the movement of people and goods within the EU. The TENs-T are considered a crucial factor in enhancing the growth and economic competitiveness within Europe (European Commission, 2005). Moreover, the TENs-T are expected to help "ensure sustainable transport" (European Commission, 2005) by increasing options within the transport network, decreasing congestion as well as the dependence of both freight and passenger travel on Europe's roads.

The original TENs-T proposal, in 1994, included 14 projects. The current list (in Figure 35) is 30 projects, of which four have been completed. The total cost of completing all 30 projects was estimated in 2004 to be €225 billion ($319 billion at 2007 exchange rates) (European Commission, 2005). By 2020, if the TENs-T were to be completed, it would include 89,500 km (55,613 mi) of roads and 94,000 km (58,409 mi) of railway, including 20,000 km (12,427 mi) of high-speed rail (European Commission, 2005).

Perhaps the most noteworthy characteristic of the TENs-T initiative is the emphasis on rail. Of the 30 projects, 18 are rail-only, while another three are multi-modal with rail as a component. Only three of the 30 projects are devoted exclusively to auto-based transport. Many of the rail projects, meanwhile, cross national borders: Project 6, for example, would connect southeast France to Slovenia by rail. This shows the extent to which the EU is hoping to restore modal balance and move travel away from what is seen as less environmentally friendly modes, such as auto. It should be noted that the TENs-T include both freight-directed and passenger-directed projects; for example, the Betuwe line (Project 5) strengthens rail links between the port of Rotterdam and the German border.

Map of the European Union showing the Trans-European Transport Network projects.  Projects are scattered throughout Europe but the greatest density of new or upgrading construction is in central Europe (connecting Italy to eastern France, Germany, central Europe, and the Scandinavian countries), the United Kingdom and Ireland, and Spain and Portugal.

Figure 35. Trans-European transport network (TENs-T) (European Commission, 2005)

There have been some detailed, independent studies of individual TENs-T projects. Schade (2006) studied the potential economic benefits of the improvements to the corridor between Lyon, France, and Torino (Turin), Italy, which is part of Project 6. Implementing all the suggested improvements, including one 52-km (32.3-mi) tunnel, would decrease passenger travel between the two cities by two hours and 15 minutes. Schade's models found that, with all the improvements in place, by 2020 the corridor would see the following differences from a no-improvements scenario:

Based on the model's findings, Schade estimated an aggregate gain in GDP for the EU-15 of €61 billion (Schade, 2006). The EU's estimates for completing the three parts—between Lyon and St. Jean de Maurienne on the French-Italian border, the Mont Cenis tunnel, and between Bussoleno and Torino—put total costs at about €15.3 billion (European Commission, 2005).

Schade's findings would suggest, then, that the Lyon-Torino corridor would confer a net economic benefit. In fact, Schade's modeling might possibly underestimate the economic benefits: if the entire Project 6 were to be completed, countries outside Italy, Austria, and France, namely Slovenia, would gain additional economic benefits from the improved Lyon-Torino connection.

The greatest obstacle in the development of the TENs-T is financing. The EU, whose budget comes mostly from value-added taxes imposed by member states, does not have the funding by itself to make the TENs-T happen: €225 billion is the equivalent of roughly two years of the EU's budget. Introducing the 30 projects in 2005, the European Commission, the domestic-policy arm of the EU, warned, "EU funding can act as a catalyst to get projects going, but Member States must find the majority of funding" (European Commission, 2005). Road-pricing was originally proposed as one way to fund the TENs-T (Ross, 1998) but has been implemented only in isolated cases in the EU. National governments may be reluctant to contribute their scarce transportation dollars to multi-state projects, even if the benefits are expected to be significantly higher than the costs. The general director of Romania's National Company for Motorways and National Roads told The Diplomat, a Bucharest-based magazine, "Our priorities are first the areas of heavy traffic and then the Trans-European Transport Network" (Nitoi & Ilie, 2008). Since transport policy has traditionally been set at the national level among EU members, the EU will have to convince member states to cede some financial and decision-making power to realize the vision of the TENs-T.

Nonetheless, the TENs-T, if achieved, will substantially increase transport options for millions of Europeans, establish better connections between European cities, better integrate outlying areas into the greater transport network, and increase the EU's freight and passenger capacity. In short, the TENs-T has the power to make the EU and its cities a more attractive place for investment. Global cities within the EU, including London, Paris, Berlin, and Barcelona, will be able to parlay more extensive rail networks into firmer positions in the global economy. The TENs-T, like the American highway system, gives some idea of the potential of transport planning on such a large spatial scale.

b. Metropolitan Shanghai/Yangtze River Delta, China
China's rapid development since 1979 has led to intense growth in its major cities, particularly Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. In 2000, Shanghai's GDP was 16 to 17 percent of that of all of China, and its GDP per capita was three times that of China (Wang & Slack, 2004). Together, the Pearl River Delta (Guangzhou/Hong Kong/Macau), the Yangtze River Delta (Shanghai), and the Beijing-Tianjin-Tangshan regions contributed 34 percent of China's 2004 GDP (Zhang, 2006).

Prior to the "opening up" of 1978—79, centralized decision-making concentrated transportation investment on improving rail access to heavy industry, mostly concentrated in northern China, and expanding the network rather than upgrading existing routes (Démurger, 2001). Metropolitan areas generally featured dense manufacturing compounds, with relative balances between residential and commercial areas and moderate investment in road transportation (Yang, 2006). New transportation challenges arose as China moved toward a market economy. Between 1978 and 2003, motor vehicle fleet grew over 20% per year on average (China Automotive Industry Yearbook, 1985-2003). In Shanghai alone, traffic volume of motorized vehicles on the main streets increased by 40 percent between 1986 and 1991; and the number of private cars rose from just 60 in 1985 to more than 4,000 (Shen, 1997). By 2003 Shanghai was believed to have 200,000 private cars (Luard, 2003). Thus transportation demand has become a challenging issue for the largest Chinese cities.

Moreover, the economic agglomerations of the economies of the largest cities have spread geographically. The building of a bridge over the Ruoxi River in 1988 led to nearby towns, such as Panyu and Dashi, being transformed into satellite towns of Guangzhou (Lin, 1999b). Panyu was annexed outright by Guangzhou in 2000 (Wu & Zhang, 2007). As Shanghai's municipal population increased from 12.2 million in 1985 to 13.6 million in 1994, its urbanized area also increased (Shen, 1997). Regional solutions to infrastructure problems thus have become more crucial, as the "reach" of China's most economically successful cities spreads, creating new suburbs and increasing the economic linkages between the central city and nearby cities or towns.

Finally, the link between transportation infrastructure and economic development can be said to be more visible in China, which has seen spatial inequities increase in the opening-up period, than in other countries. Démurger (2001) found that China's poorest provinces, such as Guangxi, Sichuan, and Guizhou in the southwest, also happened to be relatively isolated in terms of transportation access; she called them "forgotten provinces". The northwest provinces—Inner Mongolia, Gansu, and Xinjiang—also suffered limits to economic growth as a result of lack of transportation access (Démurger, 2001). The larger cities, on the other hand, could boast higher levels of mobility even after factoring in congestion. As China continues to grow, transportation infrastructure provision will continue to remain a significant policy issue.

The major question in the cases of Chinese cities is who proposes regional solutions. China's city governments, which are usually equivalent to metropolitan governments in American contexts, have a significant amount of autonomy over land-use decisions, and the final decision-maker on large projects is often the mayor of a city (Xu & Yeh, 2005; Yang et al., 2007). It was the city of Guangzhou, for example, that built major ring roads, highways, and railways (and projects such as the Ruoxi bridge) to increase its economic importance in the region (Xu & Yeh, 2005). Eighty-six different Chinese cities have created plans to develop themselves into "international metropolitan cities" (Xu & Yeh 2005). Lin (1999) argues that the Chinese central government has devolved some control to local governments: "the process of spatial restructuring in China since the reforms has been essentially a result of state disarticulation rather than increased state intervention." 

Beyond the metropolitan scale, even when China's central government desires a regional solution to an infrastructure problem, it is not necessarily guaranteed to be able to bring about regional cooperation. Wang & Slack (2004) examined port governance in the greater Shanghai metropolitan area for evidence of regional cooperation. In 1996 the central government set up the Shanghai International Shipping Center (SISC) to coordinate port development among ten ports in three adjacent provinces (Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shanghai). The center was tasked with creating an internationally competitive container hub centered at Shanghai (Wang & Slack, 2004). But the SISC was unable to dictate changes at individual ports. Another regional body created by the central government, the Shanghai Ports Group, was also created in 1996, but by 2004 had stopped holding regular meetings, as the body was unable to resolve differences between members (Wang & Slack, 2004). Eventually, the Shanghai city government, which runs Shanghai's port, began promoting the SISC, leading the authors to predict that the Shanghai city government will use the SISC to direct port development in the region (Wang & Slack, 2004). So far, if megaregion infrastructure planning has emerged in China, it could be said to be because the largest and most economically powerful cities, rather than the central government, decided that regional infrastructure planning would be beneficial.

And indeed, some hints of regional cooperation have emerged. Mayors of 15 cities in the Yangtze River Delta, including Shanghai, had a meeting to agree to regional cooperation in March 2003 (Zhang, 2006). This regional cooperation has resulted in cross-provincial support for an expressway between Nanjing and Hangzhou, a Shanghai-Ningbo Bay bridge, and regional plans for harbors and railroad projects (Zhang, 2006). Figure 36 shows new highway construction in the Yangtze River delta.

Map of the Yangtze River Delta in eastern China showing highways and highways under construction.  Highways connect Shanghai to Zhenjiang in the northwest via Changzhou, Wuxi, and Suzhou, and to Hangzhou in the southwest via Jiaxing.  Another highway connects Hangzhou to Ninbo via Shaoxing.  A highway is under construction between Nanjing and Hangzhou via Huzhou.

Figure 36: Highways in the Yangtze River Delta (Zhang, 2006)

Indications of greater region-wide planning can also be seen in the Pearl River Delta. Guangzhou's Urban Development Concept Plan, developed in 2000, included in its goals shifting the urban structure from monocentric to polycentric, which would include constructing a new central business district in Panyu. The plan also called for faster expansion of the transportation network (Wu & Zhang, 2007). Nearby Hangzhou developed its own plan, in 2001, which included building a "Hangzhou metropolis" through cooperation with two newly annexed cities (Wu & Zhang, 2007). Unlike in the Yangtze River Delta, however, where Shanghai's dominance is evident, the Pearl River Delta has multiple cities competing for dominance, and this competition influences local choices for development projects (Xu & Yeh, 2005). Regional cooperation seems more likely in the Yangtze River Delta than in the Pearl River Delta.

In short, the devolving of power to local governments, specifically the ability to make land-use decisions and finance infrastructure projects, means that the city governments are capable of dealing with changes at the metropolitan scale. Beyond the metropolitan scale, cities such as Shanghai and its neighbors are beginning to move towards a more regional approach, in recognition that each metropolitan area might benefit from regional cooperation and joint planning. Regional efforts towards transportation and infrastructure planning in China are expected to increase as its metropolitan areas continue to grow both economically and spatially. China's central government has also signaled its intention to promote more regional planning by initiating more comprehensive plans for the Yangtze River Delta and for the Greater Capital Region.

c. The Randstad, Netherlands
The Randstad, sometimes called "Randstad Holland," is the name given to an area of the Netherlands, consisting of parts of four provinces (North Holland, South Holland, Utrecht, and Flevoland). No official boundaries exist (OECD, 2007), but the general outlines of the Randstad can be seen in Figure 37. The geographic territory under the concept of "The Randstad" is only about 16 percent of the Netherlands' territory, yet about 6.7 million people, or 41 percent of the country's population, live within the Randstad (Regio Randstad, 2007). In 2005 it had a gross regional product of €235 billion ($278 billion), greater than that of Madrid, Rome, Berlin, or the Frankfurt or Brussels metropolitan regions (Regio Randstad, 2007). It includes seven universities, one of Europe's largest airports (Amsterdam Schiphol), one of Europe's largest ports in Rotterdam, and a central rural area known as the "Green Heart". Since the late 1990s local policy-makers have led an effort to have the Randstad recognized as "Deltametropolis," a poly-centric urban region which, in structure and aims, resembles the proposed American megaregions.

Map of the Randstad urbanized area in the western Netherlands.  The Randstad is centered around four cities: The Hague, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Utrecht.  The urbanized areas of these four cities combine for the more general urban area of the Randstad.  It includes Amsterdam's and Rotterdam's international airports.

Figure 37. The Randstad (Regio Randstad, 2007)

Ironically enough, given the American concept of "edge cities," Randstad translates directly as "edge city" or "rim city". The area was so named in 1937 by a Dutch aviation pioneer who noticed, high above Amsterdam, that the edges (rand) of several then-cities seemed to grow together in a circle and suggest a spot for a future city (stad) (Storm, 2004).

Unlike the TENs-T and some of the American regional efforts we have seen, such as the TVA and the highway system, the concept of the Randstad as an economically productive region did not originate with the federal government. Indeed, the Dutch government did not begin promoting centralized planning until after World War II; it was the first such use of central planning in the country's history (Storm, 2004). Both Lambregts (2002) and Storm (2004) argue that, instead of privileging the Randstad, the Dutch government has traditionally encouraged a more even distribution of growth, sending resources to economically less productive areas. The attempts to turn the Randstad into "Deltametropolis" have not been imposed from above by the Dutch federal government or the EU, but rather was first proposed in 1998 by a coalition of representatives of the Randstad's four major cities, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam, and The Hague (Den Haag) (Lambregts, 2002).

Since then the idea of the "Deltametropolis" has gained momentum. In 2001 the Queen's Commissioners of the four provinces and the mayors of the four major cities described the Deltametropolis as a "spatial unity with the potential to… improve the quality of living and mobility" (NL/EU 2001). This spatial unity was to be achieved by strengthening cooperation between local governing bodies (NL/EU 2001), identifying projects with region-wide benefits.

The Randstad resembles an American megaregion in several ways. First, it is an economic engine for the entire country. In 1998 it produced 49 percent of the Netherlands's GDP and 45 percent of its total employment (Petit, 2002). The major economic sectors of the Randstad were market services (of which business services accounted for 30 percent), industry, and non-market services, such as the health sector, government, and education (Petit, 2002). During the 1990s business services found access to Schiphol Airport, in particular, a reason to locate to the area (Regio Randstad, 2004). Moreover, the Randstad's poly-urban quality allows for economic diversification. Amsterdam functions as a center for services, Rotterdam for logistics, and The Hague for national and international government functions (Regio Randstad, 2004). Quality of life and environmental concerns are emphasized in regional planning, as the 2001 statement identified the Randstad as a potential "blue-green delta" (NL/EU, 2001). The Dutch national spatial planning program has identified the Green Heart as a landscape park (NL/EU, 2001). Finally, as with American megaregions, the idea of the "Deltametropolis" has been created and promoted as a tool for economic competitiveness. A 2006 survey ranked Amsterdam the sixth-best European city in which to locate a business, but it had been ranked fifth in 1990 (Regio Randstad, 2007). Regio Randstad, an organization devoted to studying regional questions, put it this way: "It is obvious that the large international metropolitan areas have an advantage…over the individual Dutch urban agglomerations. Only at the level of the Randstad as a whole can we compete with cities like Paris and London" (Regio Randstad, 2004).

Transport capacity, however, remains a potential block to continued growth in the Randstad/Deltametropolis. Eighty-one percent of traffic jams in the Netherlands in 2005 occurred in the Randstad (OECD, 2007). The 2001 statement called for guaranteeing "good and fast connections" to the Randstad's air and sea ports, and called for a temporary intensification of planning focus on the region's two major highways (NL/EU, 2001). While incremental changes have been made to the region's road network, such as widening emergency lanes, a more ambitious, country-wide road-pricing plan is not scheduled to go into effect until 2012 (OECD, 2007). Moreover, with the European Union having committed to ambitious carbon-dioxide emissions reductions, transport planners in the Randstad, as in elsewhere in Holland, will be under pressure to reduce growth in automotive use.

That leaves public-transit service, also historically uncoordinated in the Randstad. A 2005 thesis that compared the Randstad to several other metropolitan areas in western Europe, such as Stockholm and the "Flemish rhombus" around Brussels, suggested that the share of mobility by public transport was much lower in the Randstad. Based on interviews with local companies, the author speculated that local public transport was not efficient enough; many companies provided their employees with company cars (van Dijk, 2005). The public-transport system has also been described as fragmented and unreliable (Regio Randstad, 2004). Evidence of a new commitment towards improving transit options can be seen in Rapidrandstad, a proposed magnetic-levitation rail system serving the region. Figure 38 is the proposed map for Rapidrandstad service, which would link the major cities in the Randstad with Schiphol.

In short, the transformation of the Randstad into "Deltametropolis" is an effort to increase regional competitiveness while preserving local quality of life. Considering the economic attractiveness and the transport challenges of the Randstad as a whole, rather than of the individual cities, has allowed local policy-makers to propose more ambitious initiatives. It is hard to imagine that any one municipality or province on its own would be able to implement a Randstad-wide rail transport network, or preserve the whole of the Green Heart. The Randstad is thus at the forefront in terms of innovative governance and planning efforts by cities and city-networks to make themselves more attractive to economic investment, while still providing a safe and welcome place to live.

Map of a proposed Rapidrandstad high-speed rail system in the Randstad urbanized area.  The rail system would link all the major cities in the Randstad in a loop, including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Gouda, Delft, Utrecht, and Almere.  It would also have a stop for Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.

Figure 38. Proposed Rapidrandstad Rail System (Transrapid Nederland, n.d.)

d. Nascent Megaregional Efforts
There are also tentative efforts in other parts of the world to encourage transportation and infrastructure development within a regional context. Two such cases are the "super region" project in the Philippines and the spatial-development efforts recently led by NEPAD in Africa.

The Philippines
In the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, president since 2001, proposed dividing the country into five "super-regions" in her 2006 State of the Nation Address. Four of the regions are geographically based: the North Luzon Agribusiness Quadrangle (NLAQ), in the northern part of the country; the Metro Luzon Urban Beltway, which includes Manila, the capital; central Philippines; and the Mindanao Super Region, in the southern part of the country. The fifth super region, a "Cyber Corridor," is designed to connect cities in other super regions, and "boost technology, telecommunications, and education" (Arroyo, 2006). The "super regions" were formalized by Executive Order 561, issued in August 2006 (Government of the Philippines, 2006). The "super regions" are meant to function as a guide for federal investment in infrastructure and social programs, and lead to sustainable development (Presidential Management Staff, 2007).

Each of the five super regions is designed around a particular competitive advantage (Presidential Management Staff, 2007). The NLAQ and Mindanao are meant to specialize in agribusiness. The Luzon Urban Beltway is to be positioned as a "globally competitive industrial and service sector" (Presidential Management Staff, 2007). Development in Central Philippines will be aimed at promoting tourism. The Cyber Corridor is intended to draw investment in information and communication technology. The Philippine government hopes that defining such economic specializations will help it target infrastructure investment in each super region. For example, in the summer of 2007 a total of P18.6 billion (US $403 million) was committed to irrigation projects in the NLAQ (Presidential Management Staff 2007). The Luzon Urban Beltway, which as of 2007 housed 35 percent of the Philippines's population and 55.7 percent of its GDP, was scheduled for seven road projects totaling P51.1 billion ($1.1 billion) and the Northrail Project, a P61.9 billion ($1.3 billion) transit system intended to spur development in the northern part of the super region.

The super regions project may also lead to some political decentralization. In January 2007, President Arroyo asked that the central offices of the Department for Agrarian Reform, the Department of Transportation and Communications, and the Department of Agriculture be transferred out of Manila to locations in the super-regions (Office of the President of the Philippines, 2007). In her 2007 State of the Nation Address, President Arroyo explicitly discussed the creation of the super regions as a way to ease inequitable development between Manila and the rest of the nation (Arroyo, 2007). It is not yet clear, however, whether the super regions will lead to changes in political structure. The Philippine super regions project seems to be led by the federal government, in particular President Arroyo.

As such, the success of the Philippine super region project, still in its infancy, will depend largely on the success of President Arroyo, whose tenure has been marked by a series of scandals, including one which the chairman of the national elections commission (and a political ally) stepped down over bribery charges (, 2007) and three separate attempts at impeachment. The public may regard the super regions project as corrupt as well. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has reported that as many as 200,000 people, many of them poor, may be evicted from as a result of the Northrail Project construction (Pabico, 2005). It is difficult to assess, from a distance, how much popular support the super regions project has in the Philippines, and whether it is regarded as a legitimate tool that will spur beneficial infrastructure investment and economic development.

New Partnership for Africa's Development
Another effort towards regional infrastructure development is being led by the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), which was created in 2001 by the Organization for African Unity (OAU). NEPAD lists among its chief principles "acceleration of regional and continental integration" and building and improving infrastructure among its chief priorities (NEPAD, 2006). It should be said that NEPAD is defined as a "vision and strategic framework" (NEPAD, 2006) and thus should not be considered as having binding power on African governments' spending decisions.

In recent years NEPAD has been moving closer towards a spatial development strategy. In 2006 it published profiles of twelve potential "spatial development initiatives" (SDIs), some of which, such as the Maghreb Coastal SDI, which would include Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt (Mintek, 2006). Each SDI profile included an inventory of the area's infrastructure, economic, and energy assets (Mintek, 2006). NEPAD has suggested that defining SDIs could be helpful for identifying related infrastructure and investment projects. The SDI idea was inspired by programs begun by the South African government in 1996 to facilitate investment-led growth on South African development corridors (NEPAD, 2006b). Figure 39 shows a map of possible SDIs in West Africa (NEPAD, 2006b). As can be seen, the SDIs are primarily corridors linking major cities and, in some cases, existing infrastructure networks.

Unlike the Philippine super-region project, the NEPAD SDIs would not receive funding from the proposing body. Rather, the countries involved would have to agree that using the SDIs to guide infrastructure investment would be mutually beneficial. The original adoption of the SDI idea by South Africa, one of Africa's most successful and influential countries, could help its adoption throughout the continent. However, as with the European Union, transportation funding decisions in NEPAD's member countries are made nationally, and so cross-national infrastructure projects would be difficult to fund if not encouraged by a separate funder, such as the World Bank or other investors. A recent occurrence is the rise of public sector lending by China. Recently state-owned banks in China are offering funding for projects, which are then awarded to Chinese contractors (Synge, 2007). As a result, in Ethiopia 60 percent of all road projects are being constructed by Chinese firms (Synge, 2007). This new development may change the funding landscape in substantive ways by introducing alternatives and thus creating more opportunities for critical thought on project development.

Map of western Africa showing four proposed Spatial Development Initiatives (SDIs).  The SDIs are shaped like transport corridors.  The Conakry-Buchanan SDI, in the southwest, connects Guinea to Liberia.  The Niger SDI connects Dakar in Senegal to Port Harcourt in Nigeria via Mali and Niger.  The Sekondi/Takaoradi Ouagadougou SDI runs from central Ghana south to the coast.  Finally, the Gulf of Guinea Coastal SDI connects Monrovia, Liberia, to Port Harcourt via Buchanan and the coasts of Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria.

Figure 39. Possible Spatial Development Initiatives (SDIs) in West Africa (NEPAD, 2006

e. Interpreting Lessons from Abroad
The cases examined in this literature review suggest that interest in regional approaches to infrastructure and transportation planning is not limited to the North American megaregions. Regional coordination of infrastructure investments is increasingly regarded as a way to enhance the productivity of the entire region while preserving elements that would lead to greater quality of life, such as the Randstad's Green Heart. In the Philippines and Africa, regional coordination and cooperation are seen as a way to improve economic returns on infrastructure investment, while in China, regionalism is a tool to respond to rapidly increasing transportation demands. The European Union hopes that the EU-wide Trans-European Transport Networks will promote economic growth throughout while limiting the negative environmental impacts of transportation.

What is most striking about the cases outside the United States, when compared to the cases within the United States, is the difference between those projects that originate at the federal level or higher and those that originate at the local level. The EU has the scope to propose a transportation network far more ambitious than any one of its member states could suggest, but control of funding remains with the member states. It is difficult to predict at this stage whether the NEPAD Spatial Development Initiatives and the Philippine super regions will be implemented as proposed, but NEPAD would not be able to control the direction of infrastructure investments in its member countries, and the Philippine super-region project may suffer from its association with an unpopular president. The most successful cases appear to be those where local actors take the lead, as in the Yangtze River Delta and the Randstad. Since China's state government has empowered cities to make decisions on finance of major infrastructure investments, further regional efforts in China will probably originate from actors within the metropolitan areas, especially dominant actors such as Shanghai's city government, rather than be imposed by the state government.

In the United States, as we have seen, the locally-originated regional associations have tended to be weaker than those that originated at the federal level. Yet the federal programs—the TVA, the highway system, and to a lesser extent the ARC—have been accused of not being sufficiently sensitive to regional needs. Has the time come for empowered regional planning from the bottom up in the United States?  It may be that megaregions can be the first (North) American example of regionally cooperative approaches with enough local buy-in to be able to act decisively. The MPOs, a case of a federal creation and empowerment of regional organizations, could possibly become actors within a megaregional framework. The international examples show how local actors can recognize common needs and coordinate infrastructure planning in hopes of bettering the region.

Updated: 9/5/2013
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