Project planning and regulation
The national government plays a large role in the funding and approval of major transportation projects. Every four years, the national government establishes a National Transport Plan (NTP) that sets the goals, projects, and funding allocation for a 10-to-12 year period. The national government also establishes long-term co-financing agreements to support large transportation projects in major cities like Oslo. The Ministry of Transport is responsible for approving all major transportation projects. The planning functions begin at the local level.
A group of technical experts and representatives from the local, county, and national governments are part of a group that helps craft the NTP, funding packages, and provides technical analysis and guidance to elected officials. Each May, this group helps develop a draft of the proposed four-year transportation plan and provides its recommendations to Parliament.
Initial planning for major transit projects happens at the local level. In Oslo, this is handled primarily by Ruter, with collaboration and technical input from Sporveien, the Rail Directorate, Public Roads Administration, and relevant municipalities/counties. Planners initially develop conceptual frameworks for projects, then refine them into discrete alternatives that are evaluated through the planning and environmental review processes and are later approved by the national government before implementation. While authority for planning is concentrated at the local level, stakeholders at all levels of government are involved in steering the planning of major projects.
All major public works projects, zoning, and development projects must comply with the processes outlined in the national Planning and Building Law. This law establishes the responsibility for local governments to conduct their own planning and zoning, and specifies the roles and responsibilities of the national, regional, and local governments in all public works, development, and zoning actions, including public consultation, permitting, and approvals.
Municipalities’ power over land-use decisions is cited as a source of delays and project modifications, as all transportation projects must be integrated into local land-use plans before they can begin construction, giving local governments influence to shape the timeline and scope of projects. Recently, the national government began using its authority to develop joint land-use and transportation plans to expedite national infrastructure projects.
Included within the Planning and Building Law is the environmental impact assessment process. Similarly to most other countries, the Norwegian environmental review process requires assessments of major public works’ impacts on the natural and human environments, including an evaluation of alternatives (as well as a no-build alternative). The Norwegian process emphasizes public participation, particularly in the early stages of the review. Norwegian law requires agencies to provide ample opportunity for the public to comment on draft planning and environmental review documents, including through public meetings. In addition, interviewees noted that construction projects in Oslo must meet more stringent environmental standards, which encourage low- and zero-emissions construction sites.
Major public works over $100 million in Norway must also go through a national quality assurance process. This program was established in 2000 after a series of cost and timeline overruns on major public works projects. The Ministry of Finance works with consultancies during a project to analyze the political decision-making process, contracting, and design to bring transparency and accountability to project delivery.
Projects go through two quality assurance reviews: the first (QA1) occurs after development of an initial project concept and the second (QA2) takes place at the end of the pre-project phase, where cost estimates and management plans are developed. As part of the QA1 review, consultants review the preliminary project documents and conduct cost-benefit analyses to ensure enough alternatives have been considered, and that the documents supporting the initial project concept are sound. After the QA1 review, the relevant national ministry can decide whether to allow the project to continue in the planning process.
The QA2 review takes place prior to Parliament’s vote to approve and fund the project. This review focuses on whether the underlying cost and timeline estimates are accurate, and whether the proposed management plan is of high quality. After conducting this review, the consultant issues a recommendation on what the total cost frame should be for the project, including an amount for contingency, as well as recommendations for how to manage the project to keep it within the cost bounds. These recommendations are typically followed by Parliament, though it is not legally required.
Over 160 QA reviews have been conducted since the program’s inception, primarily for transportation and defense projects. A review of 40 completed projects found that 80 percent were completed within or below the cost frame agreed upon by Parliament, and projects were generally within their timelines and featured well-organized management structures. However, other research found some evidence of continued cost overruns and overriding political forces, particularly for projects in smaller towns or rural areas.