At a time when the shortcomings of neoliberal development are well known, China's Belt and Road Initiative offers an opportunity to revisit the question of more inclusive, equitable infrastructure development. This article examines the case of the Northern Economic Corridor, a highway-centered regional trade corridor constructed through northwestern Laos in the early-mid 2000s that was co-financed by the Asian Development Bank and the governments of China and Thailand, and that has been subsequently included in the BRI as one of a group of regional corridors following the historical trajectories of the Silk Road. The paper engages with emerging research on the BRI, wider scholarship on infrastructure, and the political geography of transnational development cooperation and financing at multiple scales. Using a mix of ethnography and document analysis, it shows how vulnerable populations were excluded from the protections of infrastructure mitigation along an early BRI project, and argues that scholars, community advocates, infrastructure planners, financiers, regulators and others engaged with the BRI and other new infrastructure initiatives should rethink established conventions that demote the attention paid to “indirect” impacts. Specifically, the article highlights formal-geographic mitigation planning as a key field of engagement in the struggle to make new infrastructure live up to expectations about inclusive and equitable development. This paper is part of a forthcoming special issue of Political Geography on “China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Views from the Ground”.