IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Big decisions, big risks. Improving accountability in mega projects


  • Bruzelius, Nils
  • Flyvbjerg, Bent
  • Rothengatter, Werner


In terms of risk, many appraisals of very large infrastructure investments assume, or pretend to assume, that infrastructure policies and projects exist in a predictable Newtonian world of cause and effect where things go according to plan. In reality, the world of policy and project preparation and implementation is a highly stochastic one where things happen only with a certain probability and rarely turn out as originally intended. The failure to reflect the probabilistic reality of investment preparation and implementation is a central reason for the poor track record that can be documented for many major projects. The article describes lessons and recommendations on how to improve accountability in decision making on very large infrastructure investments in Denmark and Germany. The conventional approach to infrastructure investments is replaced by an alternative focusing on accountability. Redrawing the borderlines of private and public involvement, four specific measures to increase accountability are suggested and detailed: (1) Transparency, (2) Performance specifications, (3) Explication of regulatory regimes, and (4) Involvement of risk capital. The decision on whether or not to build a multi-billion dollar fixed link across the Baltic Sea connecting Scandinavia and Germany is used as an illustrative case. The cyclical process about the promotion of the German MAGLEV technology gives another good example for identifying basic failures in the political process. Beyond these examples from two countries, the approach developed is likely to be relevant for other major projects in other countries as well.

Suggested Citation

  • Bruzelius, Nils & Flyvbjerg, Bent & Rothengatter, Werner, 2002. "Big decisions, big risks. Improving accountability in mega projects," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 9(2), pages 143-154, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:trapol:v:9:y:2002:i:2:p:143-154

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Benedikt Mandel & Marc Gaudry & Werner Rothengatter, 1997. "A disaggregate Box-Cox Logit mode choice model of intercity passenger travel in Germany and its implications for high-speed rail demand forecasts," The Annals of Regional Science, Springer;Western Regional Science Association, vol. 31(2), pages 99-120.
    2. Arrow, Kenneth J & Lind, Robert C, 1970. "Uncertainty and the Evaluation of Public Investment Decisions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 60(3), pages 364-378, June.
    3. Helm, Dieter, 1994. "British Utility Regulation: Theory, Practice, and Reform," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 10(3), pages 17-39, Autumn.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Lehtonen, Markku, 2019. "Ecological Economics and Opening up of Megaproject Appraisal: Lessons From Megaproject Scholarship and Topics for a Research Programme," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 159(C), pages 148-156.
    2. te Boveldt, Geert & Van Raemdonck, Koen & Macharis, Cathy, 2018. "A new railway tunnel under Brussels? Assessing political feasibility and desirability with competence-based multi criteria analysis," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 66(C), pages 30-39.
    3. Giuliano Marella & Valentina Antoniucci, 2019. "Time Overrun in Public Works—Evidence from North-East Italy," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(24), pages 1-17, December.
    4. Tuna Taşan‐Kok, 2010. "Entrepreneurial Governance: Challenges Of Large‐Scale Property‐Led Urban Regeneration Projects," Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, Royal Dutch Geographical Society KNAG, vol. 101(2), pages 126-149, April.
    5. Josef Wijk & Itay Fischhendler, 2017. "The construction of urgency discourse around mega-projects: the Israeli case," Policy Sciences, Springer;Society of Policy Sciences, vol. 50(3), pages 469-494, September.
    6. Dean, M. & Hickman, R. & Chen, C.-L., 2019. "Testing the application of participatory MCA: The case of the South Fylde Line," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 73(C), pages 62-70.
    7. Salling, Kim Bang & Leleur, Steen, 2011. "Transport appraisal and Monte Carlo simulation by use of the CBA-DK model," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 236-245, January.
    8. Bert van Wee, 2011. "Transport and Ethics," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 14281, September.
    9. Macário, Rosário & Ribeiro, Joana & Costa, Joana Duarte, 2015. "Understanding pitfalls in the application of PPPs in transport infrastructure in Portugal," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 90-99.
    10. Locatelli, Giorgio & Invernizzi, Diletta Colette & Brookes, Naomi J., 2017. "Project characteristics and performance in Europe: An empirical analysis for large transport infrastructure projects," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 98(C), pages 108-122.
    11. Joseph Sturm & Mashrur Chowdhury & Anne Dunning & Jennifer Ogle, 2011. "Analysis of cost estimation disclosure in environmental impact statements for surface transportation projects," Transportation, Springer, vol. 38(3), pages 525-544, May.
    12. Roland Andersson & Bo Söderberg, 2012. "Financing roads and railways with decentralized real estate taxes: the case of Sweden," The Annals of Regional Science, Springer;Western Regional Science Association, vol. 48(3), pages 839-853, June.
    13. Alpkokin, Pelin & Capar, Murat Samil, 2019. "Dispute boards in Turkey for infrastructure projects," Utilities Policy, Elsevier, vol. 60(C), pages 1-1.
    14. Murakami, Jin & Matsui, Yurika & Kato, Hironori, 2016. "Airport rail links and economic productivity: Evidence from 82 cities with the world’s 100 busiest airports," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 52(C), pages 89-99.
    15. Julien Brunel, 2004. "Stochastic Risk vs. Policy Oriented Uncertainties: The Case of the Alpine Crossings," Post-Print halshs-00095852, HAL.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:trapol:v:9:y:2002:i:2:p:143-154. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Haili He). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.