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Major Transport Infrastructure Projects and Economic Development

Roundtable Report 154

This report discusses the state of the art in understanding the economic effects of major transport infrastructure projects. It examines the limits of socio-economic cost-benefit analysis (CBA) and reviews the development of complementary and alternative approaches to assessing the benefits of investment in large, transformative projects. CBA has proved a reliable tool for ranking projects that are similar and for assessing investments that make marginal improvements to the transport system. It is much less suited to projects designed to transform the economy or for comparing transport investments designed to enhance regional economic productivity with non-transport uses of public funds to promote growth. In particular CBA does not capture all the wider benefits of transport investments, notably agglomeration effects and responses in labour markets to improved access to jobs. At the same time, the benefits of investment can be communicated with most audiences much more effectively in terms of impacts on jobs and GDP than time savings and net socio-economic welfare benefits – the language of CBA. 

For all these reasons attention in many jurisdictions is focusing on examining wider economic effects, in addition to standard project appraisal. The microeconomic and macroeconomic tools available to do this have improved markedly in the last decade but are far from mature and require significant resources. For large public investments, particularly where projects are designed to drive development and transform productivity rather than simply release bottlenecks in the existing transport network, the additional evaluation effort is worthwhile and critical to identifying the full value of the project. This report focuses on practical appraisal tools developed for assessment of the Grand Paris super-metro and London’s Crossrail project.

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