Paper Submitted for Presentation and Publication, The 86th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, January 2007.
The recent experience of the Spanish Ministry of Transportation in developing a new Transportation Plan, intended to use public involvement as a key element to recover legitimacy for long-term planning and to gain support to sustainable transportation objectives.
The public involvement procedure reinforced the role of planning but, ironically, also resulted in a more conservative document in terms of the relevance of environmental goals and the emphasis on management vs. infrastructure development policies. Conservationist groups were particularly disappointed about the outcome of the process.
Although there was a strong emphasis in creating multiple, well-balanced panels for discussion, consensusbuilding lacked of time to reinforce the position of more progressive approaches compared to “business as usual” positions. Furthermore, key environmental questions proved to be impossible to be carefully examined at this stage, and were postponed to modal plans.
Overall, the process served to legitimate and reinforce long-term planning as a useful tool for transportation policy development. However, there is a significant way ahead for making public involvement more influential. Linking goals to clearly specified and regularly monitored objectives would keep public involvement alive along the planning cycle. A more clear link between general transportation policy goals and stakeholders’ daily interests, such as quality of service, environmental quality or access to development opportunities should keep alive and improve the dialog among technicians, decision makers and the public, and put additional pressure in the transportation sector to gather further evidence and develop a better understanding about these complex links.