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rural roads

The “plastic bridge”: a low-cost, high-impact solution to address climate risk

Oliver Whalley's picture
Also available in: Français
Photo: Anthony Doudt/Flickr
Bridges are critical links in the transport network. In their position across waterways, they are exposed to the full effects of flooding and landslides, and are often the first pieces of infrastructure to be damaged in the event of a disaster. They also typically take weeks or months to repair.  Besides causing expensive damage to the infrastructure itself, disruptions in connectivity also have a much broader impact on economic productivity and people’s ability to access essential services. As many places are expected to witness more intense and frequent rainfall as a result of climate change, the risk to bridges will only worsen: more rainfall will lead to bigger river flows and more damage to bridges, especially those designed to handle smaller storms.

At each end of a bridges is a structure which supports the weight of the deck. These are known as abutments, and they are often the first part of the bridge to fail. Blockage of the main channel by debris can cause water to look for the path of least resistance around the sides of the bridges, thus placing the abutments at risk.

Traditional bridge construction requires the installation of piles for the foundations of abutments—a lengthy and expensive process that involves specialist materials, skills and equipment.

But there is another promising solution: Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil (GRS) abutments. These allow for rapid and resilient construction of bridge abutments using locally available materials, without specialized equipment. With GRS, bridges can be constructed in as little as five days (Von Handorf, 2013) and at a cost 30-50% lower than traditional approaches (Tonkin and Taylor, 2016) .

GRS abutments are based on ‘geogrids,’ a high density mesh made out of polyethylene (plastic). Layers of soil and geogrid are combined to create a solid foundation for the bridge deck. Construction can be completed with basic earthmoving and compaction equipment, and a range of local fill materials can be used with guidance from geotechnical specialists.

Climate change is forcing us to reinvent rural transport for the better

Ashok Kumar's picture
Photo: Ravisankar Pandian/Flickr
India is in the midst of implementing PMGSY, a $35-billion national level Rural Road Program designed to provide basic road access to rural communities. The World Bank is supporting PMGSY through a series of lending operations ($1.8 billion in Bank funding) and significant knowledge support. A key element of the Bank’s support has been to integrate a “climate and green growth lens” into these efforts in cost-effective ways.

How is “green growth” benefiting India? One important dimension of that effort has been  the use of environmentally optimized road designs, which has resulted in quality infrastructure using local and marginal materials, providing both economic and environmental benefits. Where available, sand deposits accumulated from frequent floods, industrial by-products, and certain types of plastic, mining, and construction waste have been used to good effect. Designs that use such materials have been about 25% cheaper to build, on average, than those requiring commonly used rock aggregates. The environmental benefits of using the above materials, in terms of addressing the big disposal problem of such materials and reducing the consumption of scarce natural stone aggregates, are as significant as the cost savings.

A second “green growth” dimension has been focusing investments on the “core” network, i.e. the network India needs to develop in order to provide access to all villages. Relative to a total rural road network of about 3.3 million kilometers, the core network that falls under PMGSY stretches over only 1.1 million kilometers. Prioritizing construction and maintenance on those critical road links will bring down costs as well as the associated carbon footprint.

New roads to better lives in rural Bhutan

Deepa Rai's picture
Men from the Pokri Dangra community working on the power tiller track. (Credit: RRCDP project) 

For remote rural communities in mountainous Bhutan, survival hinges upon access to roads and markets.

Since 2003, the Royal Government has built over 1,500 kilometers of farm roads and narrower, lower-cost “power tiller tracks” to help communities, which subsist mostly on agriculture, connect to the larger population, and improve their incomes and standards of living.

For farmers in the Pokri Dangra village in Samste Dzongkhag, a new track has brought more benefits than expected and significantly improved access to markets and services and reduced the cost of trading goods with other local communities.

How roads support development

Claudia Berg's picture
Rural road. Photo: Curt Carnemark / World Bank

Roads are the arteries through which the economy pulses. By linking producers to markets, workers to jobs, students to school, and the sick to hospitals, roads are vital to any development agenda.  Since 2002, the World Bank has constructed or rehabilitated more than 260,000 km of roads. It lends more for roads than for education, health, and social services combined.  However, while roads bring economic and social benefits, they can also come with social costs such as pollution or deforestation.  The Amazon rainforest is crisscrossed by almost 100,000 km of roads—enough to circle the Earth two and a half times. And the transport sector accounts for about 23 percent of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and a significant share of local particle pollution. Such tradeoffs need to be weighed when planning any intervention.

Empowering local women to build a more equitable future in Vietnam

Phuong Thi Minh Tran's picture


Vietnam’s economic emergence is perhaps best experienced along its rural roads: more than 175,000 kilometers of pavement, rubble and dirt track extend to two-thirds of the country’s population, including nearly all of the poorest people, who live among its productive farms, lush forests and meandering river valleys.

In recent years, road investments in Vietnam’s rural areas have improved socioeconomic development and promoted gender equity, social participation, improved school attendance, and more inclusive health services to impoverished regions. However, all but a few hundred communes remain off-grid, and infrastructural roadblocks and bureaucratic potholes have delayed the goal of a fully integrated road system.

The World Bank’s Third Rural Transport Project (RTP3) supported a win-win solution: employing ethnic minority women to sustainably manage road maintenance through an innovative participatory approach to local development. This blog entry describes the experience of improving the roads — and women’s lives — in rural Vietnam. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way:

Lesson 1: Solutions can come from unexpected sources.
The RTP3 task team’s investigation showed that up to a third of the population in Vietnam’s Northern Uplands provinces would be expected to contribute up to 10 percent of their total annual household expenditure to ensure safe passage along local roads — too much for most to afford. Furthermore, even when adequate resources are made available for maintenance, contractors have sometimes been unwilling to work in inaccessible regions for fear of mudslides during the rainy season.

Changing lives along the road in Honduras

Marcela Silva's picture

We arrived in the village of La Redonda-El Aguila, Honduras at ten o’clock in the morning, when the temperature was already about 94 degrees Fahrenheit. We were warmly welcomed and invited to take a short walk to the place they had prepared specially for us to hold our meeting. We were offered bean tamales and coffee, and began the meeting with members of two road maintenance microenterprises that are supported through a World Bank-financed project.

The microenterprises program was launched in 2013 under the Second Roads Rehabilitation and Maintenance project with a goal of creating 10 microenterprises to maintain 310 kilometers (192 miles) of roads. The routine maintenance work includes cutting and clearing vegetation on both sides of the road to ensure good visibility, cleaning drainage systems, keeping the roads free of debris and occasionally patching holes in the road. Microenterprise members earn wages from their work, which they invest into their households and communities.

Each microenterprise is supported by a supervisor, usually a civil engineer, who teaches members how to do the road maintenance work efficiently and effectively. Additionally, members learn how to meet conservation standards, as well as gain understanding of why maintenance activities are so important to extend the life of the road. The supervisor performs a progressive evaluation and on-the-job training for all micro-entrepreneurs. Upon completion of the training, the microenterprise is granted a contract to carry out labor-intensive routine maintenance activities over a stretch of road (at a ratio of about three kilometers per partner) for a period of 12 months, which is renewable subject to satisfactory performance. 

Ultimately, the program empowers entrepreneurs to become permanent contributors to the conservation of their roads. 

Do better roads really improve lives?

Eric Lancelot's picture
Also available in: Español | Français | العربية | Português

How can improved roads change peoples’ lives? How much do people benefit from road projects? Answering these seemingly simple questions is, in fact, much trickier than it appears.

We recently concluded an impact evaluation to measure the socio-economic impacts of World Bank-financed municipal road improvements on poor rural households in the state of Tocantins, Brazil. After 10 years of study, what were the results and lessons learned? And how did we go about conducting the evaluation?

The study followed a methodology traditionally used in impact evaluations in the social sector and was based on a precedent in Vietnam. Throughout the state, one of the least-developed and least-populated in Brazil, most municipal roads are unpaved with inadequate maintenance. The World Bank’s municipal roads project helped construct 700 concrete bridges and 2,100 culverts crossing rivers and streams, providing year-round access to remote populations that once couldn’t access municipal centers during rainy season.

The anticipated result chain of the project was as follows: improvement of physical accessibility would contribute to increase travel demand to markets, schools and health services. This would, in turn, contribute to improved education, better health and increased business opportunities. Finally, it would result in long-term household income growth.

Our study aimed at measuring these impacts through a “difference in differences with matching,” a method that compares a treatment group (population benefiting from the interventions) and a control group (population that does not), while ensuring similar socio-economic characteristics (or comparability) between groups. An “instrumental variables estimator” was then used to confirm the robustness of the results.

The results show positive socio-economic impacts to rural residents, as well as provides for several policy implications:

Small changes, big savings: Innovation at work on Indian roads

Ashok Kumar's picture
One of the key issues in transportation is the ability to get both the wonderful advantages that a new road brings to a village, while being cost effective and environmentally and socially responsible. For example, when a village in India finally gets a paved road, life becomes freer, safer, and more prosperous. A new road that connects a rural village opens the local economy to new opportunities.

​Additionally, farmers can travel farther to sell their produce and get better prices, children can go to schools more easily and, migrants who go elsewhere to work can come back to their families. For many years, this transformation was limited to larger villages. Until the year 2000, only about 300,000 Indian villages — half of the total amount of villages — had a main road. In recent years, state and federal governments have grown increasingly ambitious and are now working towards the goal of providing road links to even the smallest of villages.

Stories of Transformation: Rural Roads of Rajasthan

Vinita Ranade's picture



Challenge:
In the dry, rugged landscape of Rajasthan, children faced a hot and dusty trek to school, families had a hard time reaching medical help, and farmers, most of whom rely on dairy farming for their livelihood, found it difficult to take their milk to market.



Results:
With the coming of the road, farmers earnings have increased, children can get a ride to school, and medical help is reachable more quickly. With the commute to town now being easier, city jobs are within reach, and families are receiving better marriage proposals for their sons and daughters.

Stories of Transformation: Rural Roads of Himachal Pradesh

Vinita Ranade's picture
Challenge:
In the rough, mountainous terrain of Himachal Pradesh, farmers found it difficult to carry their produce to the nearest road for transportation to city markets. Village children had to undertake long and arduous walks to school, and medical help was hard to reach. Faced with few opportunities, young men left their villages to look for for jobs in distant towns.

Results:

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