Long before the asphalt is laid, making sure roads work for everyone

This page in:
A vehicle navigates a rural road in the Indian state of Meghalaya. A vehicle navigates a rural road in the Indian state of Meghalaya. (World Bank)

Roads are fundamental to economies and social well-being. They connect people with opportunities and everyday essentials. But despite their essential nature, one billion people globally still live more than 2 kilometers from an all-season road. The need for roads is immense and building them requires strategic planning. 

Long before the asphalt is actually laid, the right choices need to be made regarding road construction. One tool that helps authorities make critical decisions is The Highway Design and Maintenance Standards Model (HDM), a software package developed by the World Bank and partners that is as important to road projects as asphalt or medians. 

Now in it is fourth iteration, HDM-4 enables authorities to analyze, plan, manage, and appraise roads. The software helps governments decide which interventions – such as simple maintenance, rehabilitation or reconstruction - are needed, and where. 

HDM in Action

Some form of HDM has been used for over four decades to guide and evaluate the economics of investments in road projects. The software has been deployed successfully in many country contexts, but one implementation that stands out was in the late 1990s and early 2000s in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The international community had come together with a program of support to reconstruct the most critical transport bottlenecks that were damaged by conflict. By 2005, many of the emergency interventions necessary to ensure basic and safe connectivity had been met: the key segments of the main and regional road network had been rehabilitated, and essential maintenance carried out on these roads.  

But the entire road network amounted to approximately 22,600, km, and even with the large scope and scale of the emergency intervention, a significant part of the road network remained in poor condition. Limited funding available to maintain the network and limited capacity for planning and prioritizing interventions were two lingering challenges.

The World Bank-supported Road Management and Safety project delivered additional investment to the road authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But more importantly, it also provided the HDM software to establish the procedures to enable the road authorities to professionally manage their road networks. Initially, using HDM allowed authorities to identify the most important links and the most appropriate interventions given the funds available. Using HDM and training people on appropriate procedures greatly improved the overall condition of the road network and contributed both to the recovery and subsequent development of the economy of the country and the region. 

This example illustrates the importance of the HDM, a software program that few will be aware of, but which will have benefitted many. Over the years, it has been instrumental in the planning and preserving the road networks of many middle- and low-income countries, connecting communities and bringing economic and welfare benefits for countless road users.  It is an essential part of the system that road authorities use to manage their road networks and, despite its age, remains the model of choice for many multilateral and bilateral development partners.
Time for an Upgrade 

Earlier versions of the HDM model have been used reliably for several decades by governments, road authorities, consultants and universities around the world. In fact, there are approximately 3,000 existing and historical users of the software. But the software has not kept pace with the changing demands of users in terms of climate change and the associated impacts on the network. 

A new version, provisionally slated to be launched in late 2023, will represent a major upgrade to the model, and will include new features and services. It will no longer be a PC-based software package, but will move to the cloud, allowing easier service, maintenance and improvements to be implemented as required. 

The updated software will also be much better equipped to help countries respond to emerging challenges, such as road safety - including implications for non-motorized transport and pedestrians – and greenhouse gas emissions. The newest version of the HDM model will go beyond car-centric considerations to include an evaluation of the benefits of side roads, slip roads, traffic calming devices, sidewalks. It looks at improvements in the quality of life for people who both use the road and who live alongside it. 

The HDM Model is the first stop for planners, economists, development organizations, and governments working on road networks. It’s a powerful tool that ensures that road improvements are focused on routes that bring the most benefit to the greatest number of people. Over the years, the HDM model has been instrumental in justifying road building and maintenance grants for many developing countries, connecting communities and bringing economic and welfare benefits for countless road users. Our goal with this upgrade is to ensure that HDM Model stays relevant and useful for years to come.

Explore the HDM Model and associated tools:

•    HDM-4 Road User Costs Model (HDM-4 RUC) Version 5.01 (ZIP file)
•    Roads Economic Decision Model Version 4.0 (ZIP file)
•    Road Network Evaluations Tools (RONET) Version 2.0 (ZIP file)
•    Road Costs Knowledge System (ROCKS) Version 2.3 (ZIP file)
•    Roads User Charges Model (RUC) Version 3.0 (ZIP file)
•    View related presentations and case studies
•    Download the tools in other languages


Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000