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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Focus > January/February 2007 > FHWA's New Online Benefit-Cost Analysis Tool
January/February 2007Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-07-010

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FHWA's New Online Benefit-Cost Analysis Tool

When making decisions about highway projects, transportation agencies should consider a range of benefits and costs. Will a project's performance warrant the resources needed to build it? Which project alternative will result in the greatest net benefit and the most return on taxpayer dollars? The Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) new online, browser-based benefit-cost analysis tool, BCA.Net, is designed to provide valuable support to the highway decisionmaking process.

Using BCA.Net, transportation agencies can:

  • Manage economic analysis data.
  • Select from an array of sample data.
  • Develop alternative strategies for improving and managing highway facilities.
  • Evaluate and compare the benefits and costs of alternative strategies.

BCA.Net can also help agencies determine the optimal timing for a project. The tool can be used to evaluate projects involving new lane capacity and other improvements to operational efficiency, as well as reconstruction and preservation strategies. New features to be added later this year will include enhanced traffic analysis.

BCA.Net evaluates projects based on capital and maintenance costs data, the projects' physical and performance characteristics, forecast travel demand, and the economic value of benefits to users. Required data inputs include such items as the project facility type (urban freeway, urban arterial, etc.); type of improvement being considered; project length; number of lanes; pavement condition and deterioration rate; crash rates; current and projected traffic levels; vehicle mix data; vehicle type and occupancy data; and right-of-way, construction, and operation and maintenance costs. "Most of the data should be available to the model user based on existing planning, design, and engineering studies," says Eric Gabler of FHWA's Office of Asset Management. The model provides default data for economic factors such as the value of travel time and vehicle operating costs and also calculates travel time savings based on facility characteristics and projected traffic levels. The user can override any of the default data in the model with location-specific data.

The user specifies a base strategy and alternative strategies for improvement and maintenance of the facility. BCA.Net calculates the traffic impacts and agency and highway user costs and benefits for each strategy and compares them, generating measures such as the net present value, benefit-cost ratio, and rate of return for the alternative strategies relative to the base strategy.

BCA.Net has report writing capabilities for all analysis results and their associated statistics. The tool also accommodates risk analysis. The risk analysis features of the program allow the analyst to develop probabilistic inputs and results, thus accounting for the uncertainty associated with analysis inputs.

The program is available online at no cost and does not require the special installation of software on a user's computer. Users can store up to 10 data sets on the BCA.Net server. Data may also be archived on the user's computer and restored to the BCA.Net system for use in subsequent sessions.

To begin using BCA.Net, visit https://fhwaapps.fhwa.dot.gov/bcap/. Three walk-through training exercises are available under the "Help" section of the online tool. The first exercise guides users through the basic features of the tool as it performs a sample project evaluation. Two additional walk-through exercises highlight more advanced features. "The exercises not only demonstrate how to use the model, but also how to set up a project for economic analysis. We strongly recommend that users go through the exercises before getting started," says Gabler.

For more information on BCA.Net, contact Eric Gabler at FHWA, 202-366-4036 (email: eric.gabler@fhwa.dot.gov). To learn more about using economic analysis methods in transportation decisionmaking, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/asstmgmt/invest.htm.

Learn more about BCA.Net at FHWA's Economic Analysis for Highway Decision-Makers workshop. This free 1-day workshop highlights the use of economic analysis tools to support highway decisionmaking, including some of the fundamental concepts used in the economic analysis of highway projects and such economic analysis methods as life-cycle cost analysis and benefit-cost analysis. The workshop also reviews the use of traffic forecasts, risk analysis, and economic impact analysis. The latter half of the workshop features interactive training on using the BCA.Net benefit-cost analysis tool.

For more information or to schedule the workshop, contact your local FHWA division office or Eric Gabler at FHWA, 202-366-4036 (email: eric.gabler@fhwa.dot.gov).

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NOTE: The current contact for this content is Nat Coley 202-366-2171.

Updated: 07/16/2013

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