6. Route and link planning

6.1 Guiding principles

Route and link planning should be undertaken in the context of corridor and area strategies. Where a new or modified route is required, route planning will involve the consideration of demand, alignment options and detailed planning for the preferred alignment. This will lead to the purchase of land for future development of the new or modified route.

A link plan should contain a statement of intent broadly indicating expectations about the future function of the link and likely future initiatives (e.g. duplicate link by 2020). There will be link- specific performance indicators and targets, supported by strategies and intervention priorities that reflect local needs but are within the context of the corridor or area strategy and route plan.

A link plan is not usually as complex as a route plan or corridor or area strategy, unless there are major contentious issues (e.g. a road widening program that requires property acquisitions or threatens a fauna species). In some cases, the size or complexity of a corridor or area may require the development of discrete route or link plans to effectively plan and manage infrastructure within the corridor or area.

As a link plan will typically cover 15 to 20 years, it may contain interim performance targets aimed at bringing the link to a minimum appropriate performance level within the planning horizon. Priority links are usually nominated for initial attention due to funding limitations.

Because transport initiatives are closely related to links, it is often desirable for link plans to provide a basis for planning and designing initiatives.

6.2 Road specific planning

This section discusses road route and link planning (using material drawn from Austroads (2009)). It examines the interface between the top-down nature of strategic planning and the bottom-up influence mostly determining planning at the route and link level. Australian practice was identified via a survey of jurisdictions and their associated departments/agencies, and ‘mapped’ against a set of best practice principles derived from an extensive review of international and Australasian literature.

Figure 4 shows the proposed road route and link planning process, complementing Figure 3. It includes elements of best practice principles, as well as the importance of feedback mechanisms that enable the road planning process to not only be top-down (route→link), but also bottom-up (feedback loop, so that, link planning informs not only route but also corridor plans and objectives).

Figure 4: Flowchart of road route and link planning
Flowchart of road route and link planning
Source: Adapted from Austroads (2009)

Planning at road route and link level is a key ‘barometer’ of how well top-down plans and objectives have been identified and developed. It is at the forefront and strongly influenced by three very important best practice principles:

  • increasing need for land-use and transport planning integration
  • balanced multimodal development, and
  • greater demand-based planning.

These three elements have always been important but, over recent times, have been gaining urgency by the growing environmental and social impacts of road networks and motor vehicle use. The jurisdiction survey results acknowledged serious efforts made to recognise the importance of these key principles in road planning, but authorities are also aware of a number of serious legal and institutional constraints which impede implementation.

All agencies interviewed noted that road route and link level planning is undertaken; however, the degrees of this can differ according to the particular agency interviewed. Planning functions are allocated across a range of different organisations and sometimes parts of the same organisation. However, most jurisdictions have noted that road transport planning at the route and link level should be integrated with land use and higher levels of transport planning, and other aspects of the transport system.

Austroads also found that their survey results and international experience suggested that the traditional approach to planning at the route and link level was not conducive to promoting environmentally and socially sustainable transport outcomes. Austroads argued that planning practice appeared to be lenient, mostly not backed by consistent legislation and influenced by political developments. However, it noted that New Zealand and a number of Australian jurisdictions had taken serious steps towards developing procedures and guidelines aimed at improving aspects of practice.

Austroads (2009) suggested that more is needed for planning at route and link level in terms of processes and mechanisms that help to pursue transport system objectives that support environmentally and socially sustainable outcomes, on a consistent basis across the country. It suggested that the route and link level planning guidelines presented here should assist practitioners who endeavour to overcome deficiencies in existing legal and institutional structures.

The role and importance of legislation in the road planning process was highlighted in the survey of jurisdictions, where it became apparent that it was necessary to ensure that road planning takes place to a level of detail and in a form consistent across jurisdictions and specific aspects (e.g. stakeholder and community consultation). Otherwise, road planning, especially at route and link level, is bound to vary across authorities in the same jurisdiction.

Stakeholder and community consultation was acknowledged to be important, and does occur in some form across all jurisdictions. However, it was not clear to what extent it occurs as part of the route and link level planning process. It was apparent that consultation practices vary substantially across jurisdictions in terms of how and when they occur. There was a feeling that consultation needs to be a legislated requirement to ensure that it takes place and to ensure consistency across jurisdictions and projects. It needs to occur as early in the planning process as possible, and needs to be ‘bottom-up’ in terms of occurring with road users and the public affected by the route/link road projects. However, there are barriers to effective community consultation that constrain the important role the community can play in land use and transport planning decisions at the route and link level. More innovative approaches and techniques are needed to allow effective community input in route and link level transport planning decisions. In terms of road route and link level planning, practitioners should therefore note the following:

  • Evidence-based planning[1] means that route and link level planning must occur taking into account the evidence, situation or needs of road transport on the routes and links comprising the networks and corridors because this will determine what ‘solutions’ or route and link level plans are actually formulated.
  • Route and link level road transport planning must be, or at least start, as bottom-up planning that occurs at a level of detail that not only enables rigorous analysis for that level of planning, but also properly feeds into higher levels of planning following the sequence of link→route→corridor→network.
  • Route and link level planning would also be used to feed back the results of planning at these levels to inform network and corridor planning, as well as to provide a test for higher level transport planning and associated national policy framework. A supportive national policy framework is of great importance in providing guidance to route and link level planning practitioners. However, it is equally important for this framework to effectively ‘learn’ from the bottom-up nature of route and link level planning (i.e. land-use and transport planning integration, multi-modal transport planning and demand-based planning principles).
  • Key components of road route and link planning enabling practitioners to formulate route and link plans include: stakeholder (government agencies and public) consultation that occurs throughout the planning process starting from the beginning of the process in order for it to be bottom-up planning recognising user needs, demand analysis, need for integration of land-use and transport planning, and data requirements and analysis.
  • Continuing to work within the existing legal and institutional planning framework presents major challenges and would require serious strengthening of current processes and procedures (e.g. much more effective application of most or all of the identified best practice principles). However, there are opportunities for making road transport planning more consistent both horizontally (across jurisdictions) and vertically (from national level objectives to local government level) by strengthening (and introducing new) legislative and institutional requirements of planning.
  • Benchmarking best practice principles can be achieved by regularly reviewing the effectiveness of current processes and procedures, developing innovative public consultation techniques, linking transport funding arrangements[2] with requirements for land use and transport planning integration, reducing the number of transport departments/agencies/groups within governments and increasing coordination of planning entities, and strengthening feedback mechanisms for monitoring implementation of plans and auditing of project/program performance.

6.3 Other modes

As indicated in NGTSM06, it is expected that rail organisations and bodies for other modes may in due course develop guidance for route and link planning for their own modes.

[1] This approach is also advocated elsewhere in the Guidelines for use across all planning levels.

[2] Although funding arrangements may be an outcome of the process.