Ship entering a dock in the Panama Canal

+ The world’s growing need for transport infrastructure should be met by building surface transport to span longer distances and that compete with air travel.

I believe that infrastructure has the power to change things for the better and to solve some of the world’s pressing problems.

I was quoted recently in a BBC feature reviewing readers’ suggestions for infrastructure projects that could change the UK. These ideas may have been far-fetched, but I’d like to suggest five projects that I think would really benefit the world.

1. Panama Canal expansion
The longevity of the Panama Canal shows the merits of putting the right infrastructure in the right place and ensuring it can be upgraded over time. Already well underway, the expansion project will help to meet the world’s growing need for transport infrastructure. Recognising that large-scale infrastructure projects are now expected to improve the surrounding environment, it will not only reduce ships’ fuel consumption but will also reforest areas of Panama, save mangrove swamps and re-populate native species of animal.

2. Marmaray Tunnel
As I’m a tunnelling engineer, you might expect me to pick this Istanbul rail tunnel under the Bosphorus Straight as a favourite. But I think the really exciting thing about it is that it joins two continents together. For me, it shows that we should be building surface transport to span longer distances and compete with air travel.

3. Rio Olympics
Having worked on the London Olympics for five years, I believe it’s vital that the 2012 games aren’t a one-off – that Rio should also enjoy the same legacy of regeneration that London has. The massive investment in the games represents a huge opportunity to join together sport and infrastructure, and private and public enterprise, for social good. And I really hope Rio makes the most of it.

4. Safe nuclear power
It seems to me that the world needs nuclear power, at least in the short to medium term, if we are to meet demand for low-carbon energy. No other source of generation has the same potential capacity as nuclear. So the sooner we can make it completely safe (and ensure people perceive it as safe), the sooner we can radically reduce carbon emissions.

5. Global organisation of philanthropic infrastructure
I believe organisations like The Rockefeller Foundation, The European Foundation Centre and the Institute of Philanthropy should become more involved in developing infrastructure. They naturally take the widest possible view of a problem and consider different ways to solve it – of which developing physical infrastructure is just one. By aligning philanthropic and economic drivers, we can ensure that infrastructure tackles pressing, long-term problems.

I think the world needs these projects. But it will only get them if, collectively, we can begin to look beyond short-term political cycles. We need to invest in infrastructure for the long term, considering all the benefits – not just the economic ones.

Do you agree? And what projects would you choose for your top five? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.