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Evaluation of urban transportation investments using social benefit cost analysis : a case study of the Geist Road extension in Fairbanks, Alaska Schwetz, Thomas Bernard


This paper illustrates the use of Social Benefit-Cost Analysis (SBCA) to evaluate a major highway improvement project proposed for Fairbanks, Alaska. Use of SBCA has been shown to lead to the selection of projects which provide greater net benefits to society than other evaluation methods. Despite this, the majority of resources spent on highway investment in the U.S. each year is programmed based on simple, non-economic investment rules. The case study employs a detailed analysis of Fairbank's highway transportation system in order to develop estimates of direct user costs over the life of the proposed project. This level of detail provides reliable user costs, sensitive to relationships between costs and traffic volumes, land use patterns, distribution of traffic by time of day, vehicle mix, etc. It is concluded that the method used in the case study is applicable to and appropriate for use in other medium-sized and small urban areas. The data required for this analysis was found to be available from models routinely generated by most cities. Analyses of this type could be improved with better data on vehicle operating costs, the valuation of travel time and the relationship between accidents and traffic volumes. The relationship between the technical analysis using SBCA and the broader decision-making framework is discussed. It is concluded that analysts can play a role in ensuring the effective use of the analysis results in the often politicized decision-making framework. It is felt that this is best accomplished by ensuring the active participation of the analyst, the decision-maker and the community in the development of alternatives and the setting of objectives to be used in the analysis.

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