Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Christa Altenstetter

Subject Categories

Economics | Political Science | Public Administration


infrastructure, investment decisions, megaprojects, public investment, transportation


Large infrastructure investment decisions, especially for mega-projects defined as costing more than one billion U.S. dollars, are largely based on complex, unclear and non-transparent decision criteria. The project's specific context and a variety of actors and interests add to the complexity of the decision processes. All projects deviate, to a certain degree from a "rational" decision-making process, are politically motivated and subject to multiple interests. Cost-benefit analyses are conducted for about half of the projects. In this work I hypothesize that the politics of project decision-making is comparable across countries, relative to their nature, form of involvement and impact on decision-making. This dissertation develops a theoretical framework to assess the politics of transportation megaprojects internationally, and then tests it by integrating quantitative and qualitative research methods. I apply the framework to a comparative database composed of transportation megaprojects worldwide as well as to two US based case studies. Using this framework the research yields the following main findings:

1. Any infrastructure investment project is a product of its time.

2. Transportation investment decisions most frequently are about funding.

3. The dwindling role of national governments across the globe in favor of local decision-making shifts project and funding decisions to the local level.

4. Creating broad pro-project coalitions is crucial. Each transportation megaproject is composed of different sets of support and opposition groups. Agency fragmentation and privatization trends further contribute to more complicated decision and funding schemes.

5. National governments disproportionately fund projects that have cost overruns and long implementation times.

6. The nature of transportation agencies matters. Depending on the type (line agencies, special purpose agencies, or single purpose agencies) transportation agencies either contain the inbuilt conflicts of their creators, or they already embody consent for a project. This yields strong impacts on project decision and implementation processes. On the other hand, transportation agencies may act as a potential shield from politics, with the ability to hold and maintain items on a long-term agenda.

7. Generally, national level and grant-funded projects face weaker opposition. Further, opposition and cost overrun are associated.