The Challenges of Avalanches: Can Their Impacts Be Benefit-cost Analysed?

The Challenges of Avalanches: Can Their Impacts Be Benefit-cost Analysed?


T Tretvik, SINTEF; J Odeck, Public Roads Administration, NO



If avalanches occur, the consequences are sometimes disastrous. Lives may be lost, traffic diverted to longer routes and many trips that otherwise should have been undertaken are not undertaken at all. This raises the question as to whether societies should see to it that avalanches are avoided.
Given limited government budgets where all projects must compete against each other, let it be investments, road maintenance etc, a succinct benefit-cost analysis ought to be carried out in order judge their merits. Unfortunately, projects aimed at reducing avalanches are seldom benefit-cost analysed, implying that they are seldom prioritised formally and objectively despite the benefits that they may incur to the society. The actual problem is the lack of established procedures for benefit-analysis for avalanches.

The purpose of this paper is to show that avalanches can perpetually be benefit-cost analysed as is the case with other forms of investment in the road sector. However, the assessment of avalanches requires the quantification of other types of impacts than those traditionally quantified when assessing road investments. Fear of being caught in an avalanche is one such impact. Subsequently, the probability of being caught given that an avalanche occurs must be estimated. Another challenge is to ascertain data on the frequency of avalanche on a given road segment, and the estimate of investments for securing and making those road segments free of avalanches. Knowledge of engineering solutions and geological data is therefore a necessary prerequisite for carrying out benefit-cost analysis of avalanche projects.

We demonstrate in this paper how a benefit-cost analysis of avalanche projects can be carried out and how the necessary data can be obtained, i.e. we develop a model for benefit-cost analysis of avalanche projects. Then we test our model on several avalanche projects that previously have been considered for investments on subjective or ad-hoc grounds. Our findings in this paper are as follows:
(i) Avalanche projects can effectively be subjected to benefit-cost analysis so that they compete with other forms of road projects given the scarce government resources available for investment
(ii) The untraditional impacts that avalanches lead to can effectively be quantified given geological data on road segments involved
(iii) The test of our model show that not all avalanche projects that previously have been prioritised are economically worthwhile, and
(iv) Following (iii), many avalanche projects tend to show low net benefits due to the reason that they are situated in low traffic-volume areas and in addition, when avalanches occur the probability of being caught is relatively low. Benefits tend to be low for this particular reason.

Finally, to put the findings into perspective, this research was authorised by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (NPRA) with the aim of standardising the methodology derived so that it can form part of its common appraisal framework. The findings have been sanctioned by the NPRA and will probably enter into its framework in the course of the year 2004.


Association for European Transport