What are Megaprojects?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Megaprojects are public works projects of an especially ambitious or notable scale. Substantial financial investment is usually required to make such projects successful, and they can take decades or even centuries to complete. As a result of the tremendous investment involved, megaprojects can also be very risky, as investors and the public stand to lose a great deal if they go wrong. They are often closely followed during the planning and building stages, and they may be heavily criticized if people think that they are doomed to fail.

A ship going through a lock at the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric dam.
A ship going through a lock at the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric dam.

There are several different ways to look at a megaproject. Some people define such projects as public works projects which cost over one billion United States dollars. Others prefer to look at the social, cultural, or economic impact of public works projects to determine whether or not they are megaprojects. Many such projects have had a tremendous cultural impact, becoming widely known around the world because of their sheer size, design, or purpose. When constructed well, a megaproject can also boost the surrounding economy, although such projects can also turn into economic drains.

The Hoover Dam was a megaproject built during the 1930s.
The Hoover Dam was a megaproject built during the 1930s.

Some examples of modern and historic megaprojects include: Aswan Dam, Hoover Dam, the Big Dig, the Great Pyramids, the renovation of the World Trade Center, the Panama Canal, the Airbus A380, Taipei 101, the Sydney Opera House, the Great Wall of China, the Channel Tunnel, the Bang Na Expressway, and the Oresund Bridge. Many of these projects share the trait of being extremely large, and several are considered to be cultural icons.

The Pyramids of Giza took several generations to complete.
The Pyramids of Giza took several generations to complete.

Designing a megaproject requires a great deal of coordination and work. Often, such projects can involve building techniques and design characteristics which have never been used before, and on occasion, builders are actually forced to develop new techniques to address challenges which arise during construction. Existing infrastructure may also have to be adjusted to accommodate such a project both during and after construction, and designers have to think about issues like coordinating the flow of building supplies, hiring a workforce, addressing environmental concerns, and responding to members of the community who may be worried about the project.

Oil pipelines are considered megaprojects.
Oil pipelines are considered megaprojects.

The term “megaprojects” is also used in the oil industry, to refer to an oil project involving an especially large oil field. Oil megaprojects require a great deal of investment, and can yield tremendous amounts of oil if they are managed wisely. Some conventional megaprojects have also involved the oil industry, as in the case of numerous very large oil pipelines used to move oil from remote oil fields to more centralized locations.

The Panama Canal is an example of a modern megaproject.
The Panama Canal is an example of a modern megaproject.
The Great Wall of China is considered a megaproject.
The Great Wall of China is considered a megaproject.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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