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Project Type
UTRC Faculty Development Mini-grants
Project Dates
09/01/2011 - 05/31/2013
Principal Investigators
Project Status
Project Description

Increasing population and economic activity in urban areas have intensified the need for more efficient public transportation. Such efforts include the expansion of existing transportation systems and the construction of new infrastructure projects. Either way, such investments require careful prioritization, evaluation and selection among competing project alternatives. But the decision-making processes seem far from rational, as attested by commonly observed overextended project planning, cost over-runs and demand over-estimates.

Research on transportation mega-projects hypothesizes political considerations as well as irrational decision-making processes. Yet, to date not much research has been carried out to establish analytically and empirically the key factors which underlie such decision-making practices. The scant research on the subject points to political motivation, interest groups and funding availability as dominant factors. Yet, the statistical validity and significance level of these factors have yet to be ascertained using established research methods. Against this background the main objective of the proposed research is to examine methodically how economic, organizational and political factors affect decision-making on transportation megaprojects investment. To this end we seek to analyze a comprehensive database of international transportation mega-projects.

In the New York metropolitan area, heavily dependent on public transport, an insufficient and aging public infrastructure is a particularly problematic, yet transportation solutions seem very slow. In the proposed paper we seek to make sense of this dilemma by comparing the case of the New York Second Avenue Subway to a comprehensive data base of currently 55 international transportation mega-projects, expansion pending. It includes information on projects’ history, planning, politics, economic and finance, and projects’ cost and demand results. Subsequently we will use statistical methods to elicit the key factors which determine the selection of transportation mega-projects.

Once we establish these factors we next would like to determine how well they can explain the decision to carry out the NY City Second Avenue Subway mega-project. We argue that this project cannot be explained on the basis of conventional social cost-benefit rationale, but rather on the basis of the political and organizational factors discovered by the preceding analysis of our database. We further test for the hypothesis that common phenomena such as costs over-run is not just the results of project delays and technical risks but rather the outcome of the non transportation-economic decision process such as that of the 2nd Avenue subway.

There are several reasons to choose the Second Avenue Subway project. First, prior research projects endowed us with some in-depth knowledge about this particular metropolitan transportation effort. Second, it is one of the projects for which only an incomplete cost-benefitanalysis has been done, and arguably the “real” costs and benefits have not been sufficiently proved. Located in the New York metropolitan area, we argue that it is a quite typical urban project, which illustrates major associated nuances and problems of projects in dense urban and metropolitan areas. A comparison with other projects in the data base will also allow us to evaluate whether it fits the patterns of large-scale infrastructure projects more generally, independent of their context.