Are politics and prestige trumping sound finance and credible economics ?

Avec le soutien de
(From L to R) Nando Bodha, Indian High Commissioner Abhay Thakur, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, Ivan Collendavelloo and Pravind Jugnauth at the laying of the foundation stone of the project last week.

(From L to R) Nando Bodha, Indian High Commissioner Abhay Thakur, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, Ivan Collendavelloo and Pravind Jugnauth at the laying of the foundation stone of the project last week.

Behind the nice speeches regarding Metro Express the day of its laying of foundation stone, hides the subject of monetisation. Dr Rama Sithanen will analyse this project, in two other parts, in the days to come, and also all its implications.

Are politics and prestige trumping sound finance and credible economics ? (Part I)

The multimedia high tech display and the official compelling case for the metro express

The ground breaking ceremony of the Metro Express (ME) was a magnificently delectable spectacle, well-calibrated, choreographed and executed. Thoroughly deserved for the most prestigious and ambitious infrastructure project even undertaken in our country. All jazz and pizzazz in technology, style, form and tone with a virtual tour of the ME as the peak of the pageantry performance. Embroidered with panegyric rhapsodies such as: “A historic event, a new chapter in our history, a great colossal venture, a game changer, a paradigm shift, a critical success factor, a major stride towards a new era of development and to capture it all… a superior solution.”

The threads of the arguments, as articulated by the Prime Minister and Minister Bodha, look impeccable. They appear flawless. They range from ending the congestion nightmare to embracing a modern, safe, cleaner and efficient transport mode which is more cost effective, comfortable and reliable. The ME will drastically lower travel time, bring down commuting costs, cut back on car ownership and ridership, eliminate the inconvenience of traffic congestion, save on energy bill, reduce pollution, and curtail road accidents, all resulting into considerable improvement in economic efficiency. How could we continue to accept a road congestion that costs the nation Rs 4 billion per annum today and rising to Rs 10 billion in 2030?

The new transport mode will tremendously boost the construction sector, generate 7 000 full-time jobs and contribute Rs 13 billion to national output during the implementation phase. It has wider economic and social implications, with huge spillover effects due to urban regeneration and new poles of bustling activities in metro stations. It will eventually operate countrywide with extension to the West, South and North of the country and will even serve the airport with multiplier effects on tourism. Assurances are given that the concerns of all stakeholders, especially those likely to be impacted negatively, will be taken on board. Thus, the interests of workers of the transport industry, bus companies, individual bus and taxi owners will, ‘at all times’, be safeguarded after full consultation with them to ensure a win-win outcome. The budget will be affordable to the government and the fares reasonably priced for commuters. The free transport scheme, costing Rs 2 billion annually, will be reviewed to make it more sophisticated, more accountable and more attractive.

This is indeed very great stuff, even if it is not freshly baked, as the same consultants have been singing the same song from the same sheet for quite a long time. In the light of so much benefits, one is flabbergasted that independent commercial banks operating in Mauritius are extremely reluctant to fund a Rs 7 billion loan being sought by the government for the ME without a sovereign guarantee. It speaks volume of what they think of the project on its own merit.

The devil is always in the details and the monetisation of benefits and costs

Undoubtedly, all of us want an end to the current nightmare of traffic congestion, especially at the entrance and the exit of Port-Louis. Equally, we would like to have a modern, efficient, eco-friendly and cost-effective transportation system that meets the country’s future requirements and fosters new growth drivers. The Prime Minister is absolutely right that business as usual is not an option.

The question however is whether the ME is the superior solution, based on an objective set of criteria. As Minister of Finance and Economic Development for close to 10 years – and having studied all official reports on alternative modes of public transport until 2010 – and as an economist familiar with large public infrastructure funding, I have never been convinced by the case for the ME. We should not hold against some prominent members of the present government the fact that they were dead against the project, as recently as December 2014, when the ME was qualified as an unmitigated financial disaster. To be fair, many policy makers have, over the years, altered their view on the best transport mode, and probably for sound reasons, as the facts, the figures, the economics and the circumstances have evolved.

In his speech, the Prime Minister rightly referred to two key factors that have informed the choice of the ME.

They are:

i.A study of existing and future transport demand to underpin the decision;

ii.A careful and comprehensive assessment of the economic and social costs and benefits of the ME. These two elements have always constituted the basis of my doubt on the ME. And I shall develop them to justify my concerns.

While we have been peppered and overwhelmed with many broad arguments, vague generalisations and motherhood statements such as the positive spillover effects of the ME, its wider social and economic benefits, we have not seen any financial and economic analysis or monetisation of such gains. Nor any compelling study on how the current employees and bus operators of the transport industry will be ‘perfectly’ integrated into the new system. Or how the free transport subsidy of Rs 2 billion will be reengineered, rebalanced or redistributed?

One also suspects an unfortunate cynicism when reference is made to extending the ME to rural areas. One argument used against the ME is that rural taxpayers will contribute for a transportation system destined for urban dwellers only! This charge is obviated with the promise of stretching the ME to the West, North and South. How credible is such an undertaking with such low traffic density, knowing fully well that those who make that pledge will probably not be here to implement it?

Also, the seductive appeal of policy makers for large scale public projects that are charged with prestige, glory, and national pride is oblivious to the fact that such infrastructure often experiences long delays, incurs massive cost overruns, has huge opportunity costs and ends up as a money sink that imperils the finances and the economics of the country. There are many illustrations in developing countries.

While in office, I had four grounds to anchor my doubts and they have not materially changed.

i.Based on what has been presented on Friday last and in the absence of an accompanying document spelling out the key features of the ME, there is no evidence of its alleged superiority in terms of some vital components that constitute the quality of services to be provided (such as the comfort of commuters based on the ratio of standing to seating accommodation, the duration of the trip). This has major implications on both the financial forecasts and the monetisation of economic benefits;

ii.Critical mass of traffic, affordability and financing are at the heart of ME planning and development. Because it is very expensive and demand density is low, revenues rarely cover all costs. The financial risks, as opposed to the economic ones, are therefore extremely high and the ME could end up as a disaster that adds significantly to the annual budget deficit and to public debt, especially if the forecasts of traffic demand are not realistic;

Research in many countries has demonstrated that the average cost escalation of the Light Rail Transport is estimated at 45 %.

iii. While there are clear socio-economic and environmental benefits, strong doubts subsist whether they will be sufficient to warrant such a phenomenal investment that could be a huge burden for future generation. Unless there is the temptation by consultants to make overly optimistic assumptions about economic benefits (the spill over effects) and to underestimate the economic costs (the impact on employees and operators of the current transport industry), resulting into a self-serving bias to make their case. Research in many countries demonstrates that the average cost escalation of Light Rail Transport is estimated at 45 % while demand projections show inaccuracies of around 85 % ; and

iv. The opportunity costs of the ME are simply too high and there are modern, proven, efficient and much more affordable alternative package of policies and measures to alleviate traffic congestion. They do exist in many developing countries.

I shall focus on these four issues only. I shall posit as to its technical feasibility, the alignment and technology, the procurement strategies and the choice of the concessionaire that will design, build, finance, operate and maintain the ME. I shall also postulate that the mode of transport shall be safe, secure, free of technical and maintenance hitches and eco-friendly. I shall further assume that the political, construction and legal risks can be managed and mitigated.

We are thus left with the quality of service, the forecasts of passenger demand, the estimation of financial costs and revenues and the monetisation of economic costs and benefits. And whether government and public subsidies will be necessary to implement and operate the ME.

 I shall consider each of these critical points in the next two articles.

 

Are politics and prestige trumping sound finance and credible economics? (Part II)

How much commuting time saved, car ridership avoided and what level of rider comfort?

Proponents of the Metro Express (ME) argue that three of its important advantages are the significant reduction in travel time for existing commuters, the decrease in car ridership as auto users shift to the new mode and the level of rider comfort. The travel time saved and the vehicle cost savings are two critical elements used by the consultants to compute the economic benefits. If they do not materialise, the whole project risks financial and economic failure. As no detail has been given on ME speed, we have to benchmark on what is typically obtained elsewhere.

With 19 stations, it is not clear that it will “drastically reduce the commuting time for citizens”, as stated by Minister Bodha. It all depends on where one resides and works and for how long the ME stops at each station for alighting and boarding, especially at the four interchanges. Currently, passengers from Curepipe and Vacoas to Port-Louis benefit from express bus services without any or with very few stops.

It is unsure whether the travel time for ME passengers from Curepipe to Port-Louis would be shorter than an express bus service with fewer stops. 19 stations and stops at each of them may lead to lower average speed and longer travel time, thus reducing the very attraction of the system. Consider a commuter from the South to Port-Louis who travels by an express bus today. It could be very inconvenient as he would use both the bus mode and the ME. It is also unfair to compare time saved with the current congested system. It ought to be benchmarked on an alternative bus rapid transit that has the possibility of an express service between Curepipe and Port-Louis on a dedicated lane as it exists elsewhere.

There are many unanswered questions on the level of passenger comfort. Having to endure 18 stops between Curepipe and Port-Louis is surely no fun. No information has been given on seat comfort and legroom. Neither on the share of passengers likely travel in a standing position and, at times, in an overcrowded space during peak morning hours.

The quality of service and comfort of rides are critical to attract car users. Today, they drive in the comfort of their cars directly from home to work and back and listen to their channel of choice in their privacy and without noise or disturbance. Travel time should be measured door-to-door, taking into account each trip link, including time spent walking and waiting. With the ME, they would have to drive (or walk or use the bus feeders) from home to the ME station, park their vehicle, wait for the service, travel on board, stop at 18 stations, reach Port-Louis, find another transport to arrive at the office and back the same way in the afternoon. They would lose their privacy and have to bear with noise and distraction. How many car users will give up such multiple benefits to shift to the ME?

This predicament has been well summed up by a transport engineer who observed: “Who wants to pay a higher fare from Curepipe to Port-Louis, crammed six to eight passengers per square metre during peaks, with 80 % of passengers standing, travelling at a commercial speed of 20 kms per hour and completing the single journey in some one hour and 15 minutes and in a noisy environment?”

Granted, there might be some exaggeration in the statement. However, we heard of “affordable fare” and not a guarantee that the ME fare will be similar to current bus tariff. Furthermore, the public has the right to know what will happen in terms of passenger density at peak hours, the share of commuters standing, the commercial speed, the time spent at each stop and the trip duration. None of these key details have been revealed. A focused group discussion should be held to fully understand the responses of commuters and car users to the project instead of desk research and unrealistic assumptions on the behaviour of prospective patrons.

Negative financial internal rate of return and very low benefits to costs ratio?

Public transit systems are very expensive, with ME lines and related infrastructure costing billions of rupees. It is therefore key to accurately measure the costs and the benefits to help guide policymakers. While roads are congested in many places, they may not be crowded enough to warrant a ME because of low population density. The critical mass of traffic may be lacking with a population of 1.3 m only. Worst, only 50% of inhabitants will be covered by the ME. Previous studies show that ME is viable only if there are at the very least 15,000 passengers per hour, which is impossible along the Curepipe-Port-Louis corridor.

The key question is how many commuters will shift from the current bus system to the ME and the number of car users who will move to the new transport mode. The forecast seems to be around 165 000 passengers on a daily basis in its year of introduction, rising to 180,000 in subsequent years. These traffic flows are largely inadequate to justify the ME. Worse, the projected figures may not even be realistic if the service does not save significant time and is uncomfortable. For instance, how will the ME serve Réduit and Ébène (or the future Highlands administrative city) which are key generators of traffic? Will passengers for these regions have to change to the bus feeders at Rose-Hill which will make the proposition very unattractive and longer?

“The project would simply eat its own tail.”

Furthermore, long term demographic projections show that our population will significantly decline to around 950,000 on a no change policy on fertility and immigration. As a result, the number of children attending schools and universities will fall dramatically and the labour force will shrink considerably. The share of elderly will soar, implying lower mobility rates. These will lead to declining and not rising ridership as assumed in the study.

The ridership problem will be compounded by the unevenness of traffic flow during the day. Besides the peaks in the morning, there will not be enough commuters to use the mass transportation of the ME. And if supply is adjusted by reducing frequency and/ or lowering the number of trains, the huge fixed costs will have to be spread over fewer utilisation.

In addition to passenger revenues, ME offers the opportunity of generating non-fare income. This helps to diversify the revenue base and lower the overall funding requirement. Non-passenger revenues can come from a number of sources including advertising, rental of space at stations, parking charges and other activities. Some of these income are difficult to quantify and it is not clear that all these revenue rights will accrue to the concessionary.

All projections shown to me when I was in office and even those of 2014 invariably pointed to massive financial losses. The Internal Rate of Return was negative while the Benefits to Costs Ratio very low. The evaluation showed that the present value of fare and advertising revenues to total costs was only 58%, signifying a massive financial loss of 42% of the present value of costs. If a residual value of 22% of capital expenditure is retained, the loss comes down to 27% of costs. The consultants seem to use a high residual value to enhance the performance of the ME. Once installed, there is not much we can do with such a unique and non-tradable investment to generate residual value.

As a result of these huge losses, there is need for substantial Government support, either in terms of an outright grant to fund the project and/ or annual subsidies from the Budget to meet the gap between operating costs and revenues. I have not seen the latest business plan of 2016 with detailed forecasts of revenues and costs over a 25-year time frame and sensitivity analyses based on changes in ridership and other costs and benefits. However, not much could have changed in traffic demand. All projections must be made available to enlighten the public.

We have to be very vigilant, especiallyas one common pitfall is the tendency to underestimate time and costs, and to be wildly optimistic on forecasts of future passenger demand and other revenues during the decision making process. Many studies of new ME systems in developing countries show that costs have been well above and ridership well below forecasts made when the projects were approved. Precisely the stage we are in today!

There is also a huge controversy on the capital cost of the ME. Many are stunned at the revised project costs which appear on the low side when compared to similar investment in Singapore, Macau and India. We should know the cost savings options that have been proposed to scale down capital expenditure and whether they are realistic. For instance, has the ME been transformed from an elevated transport system to one that will operate on street level only? If yes, what would be the implications of such a change in technology and rights of way on competing use of scarce road space and the risks of accidents? For instance, just consider what would happen in terms of traffic congestion if part of the existing space (say in Quatre-Bornes) currently used by vehicles is reserved for the ME? The project would simply eat its own tail.

 

Are politics and prestige trumping sound finance and credible economics? (PART III)

The Transport Common Front organised a protest rally concerning the Metro Express on March 9, in Port-Louis, to voice out their concern about the future of the 7 000 employees of the sector
The Transport Common Front organised a protest rally concerning the Metro Express on March 9, in Port-Louis, to voice out their concern about the future of the 7 000 employees of the sector.

Monetisation of economic benefits and costs and impact on internal rate of return?

Transport infrastructure is a public good that serves a number of purposes and produces several benefits over time. Therefore, it is not just the financial returns but also the broader economic, environmental and community benefits that should be considered when evaluating the Metro Express (ME). There are cases where a project produces multiple benefits to society but may not attract sufficient interest from potential investors who have to recover their capital and generate a reasonable rate of return. The ME becomes more than a transport investment and must be viewed in its wider socio economic perspectives.

Some may present the lower project costs and the Rs 9,9 billion grant from India as an improvement in the viability of ME. However, there are five issues that must be acknowledged. First, using the grant for the ME represents a huge opportunity cost as it would crowd out many other key infrastructure projects such as water for 24 hours during the year, as promised, and investment in education, health and the productive sectors of the economy. Especially at a time when there are severe cuts in the capital budget. Better, it could be used for a modern, efficient and affordable bus rapid transit.

Second, even with a lower capital spending from Government, it is not obvious that it will pass the financial viability test. Third, one hopes that costs have been accurately estimated and not shown in an optimistic light only to be raised once the project has started. Fourth, for such a project that spans five years, there could be significant cost overruns due to delays, modifications and unforeseen spending such as new land acquisitions. Fifth, the consultants have made it very clear that the costs are best estimates and they have no control on the cost of labour, materials, the equipment and services.

There is no guarantee that the costs incurred by the constructor and the operator would not be higher. Once selected, the designated concessionaire will have to validate the detailed costings to give us a better idea of both capital and operational expenditures.

The consultants carried out an economic assessment in addition to the financial evaluation to capture the wider benefits of the ME. The four main road user benefits are:

1. Costs savings due to fewer cars on the road as users shift to the ME;

2. A monetisation of the alleged savings in travel time;

3. An assigned value for lower carbon emission ;

4. An estimate for the benefits of reduction in accidents.

They produced a matrix of monetary values for these four savings. The economic benefits imputed is very significant, at 87% of fare box revenue. In other words, if passenger fare revenue is predicted at Rs 100 million, these economic savings are attributed a value of Rs 87 million. Vehicle costs savings and travel time savings account for 90% of these economic benefits, as shown in the table below.

It is only after the above ‘economic benefits’ are monetised that the ME shows a positive economic rate of return and a higher benefit to cost ratio. And the green light given for the ME, even if the net financial present value is highly negative and the above savings are not actual but imputed revenue.

It is plain that the choice of the ME hinges critically on the vehicle cost savings and the travel time savings materialising. Both are highly questionable. As explained earlier, the impact on car ownership and ridership is uncertain as it is unsure whether people who currently use cars to commute to Port-Louis will leave their comfort and flexibility and switch to a public transit with longer travel time and discomfort. If vehicle ownership does not change, the economic benefits shown in the report will be lost. With 19 stations, it is doubtful if there will be significant travel time saved, especially on a door to door basis.

So, 90% of the alleged economic benefits are highly uncertain. The contribution of lower carbon emission and reduced accidents are very marginal. These will also have to be offset against more greenhouse gas emission during the construction period and the use of fossils fuels to generate electricity to propel the ME.

It is unfair to monetise economic benefits and ignore economic costs. The big losers are very likely to be the employees of existing transport companies, the bus operators and taxi owners. What would be the fate of the 7 000 employees of the industry? What is the worth of the undertaking of Government that no employee will be affected by the ME, the more so that they work in the private sector? How will they be redeployed into the new system? What happens to private bus companies that have invested in the provision of transport services over the years and find themselves exposed to a significant reduction of activities and revenues (as high as 40% to 50% in some cases)?

In the absence of dialogue and discussion with key stakeholders, there is an increasing climate of suspicion that these employees are being taken for a ride while bus operators and taxi owners face the daunting prospect of being collateral victims of the ME. There are also costs in terms of residential homes having to give way to the ME on its alignment while public spaces such as local markets, roads and other facilities and amenities will be adversely impacted.

There are social welfare costs too. Almost 35 % of the population does not pay for commuting because of free public transport. Minister Bodha has announced a review of the scheme without giving any indication of what will happen. Will Government transfer the subsidies to the ME, thus causing further financial pain to bus operators? Or will there be a sharing of the subsidy between the two modes? How will fare arbitrage influence traffic flows between the two systems? It is plain that a differential fare structure will significantly impact the revenue generating capacity of the ME or bus operators. We are thus caught in a vicious circle that could impair the finances of the ME. Government must clarify the situation.

The Prime Minister spoke about the output and the employment impact during the construction period. How many of the jobs will accrue to locals and how many will go to foreigners, either for cost competitiveness or for lack of skills in the ME project? Has the Rs 13 billion of national output contribution taken into account that a significant share of inputs, materials, equipment and technology will be imported, with a negative impact on both national income and the external balance?

He also mentioned that the net employment effect of the ME will be positive when it becomes operational. This is highly arguable for two reasons. The ME will employ relatively few people for a technology driven mass transit system. There are also risks of job losses among the 7 000 employees of the industry.

It is thus very unclear whether the Light Rail Transport will generate sufficient economic and environmental benefits to offset its large financial deficit. In such cases, the government will have to dole out public money to cover more than some of the construction costs. Will Government guarantee the operator’s revenue so as to ensure a fair return on investment?

 

Metro Express (LAST PART)

None of the solutions aiming at curbing traffic congestion is cheap or easy.

Behind the nice speeches regarding Metro Express on the day of its laying of foundation stone hides the subject of monetisation. The author rounds off his analysis of the project, and its implications, in this last part.

1.An abrupt and ill-informed change in strategy to tackle traffic congestion problems

Various solutions have been suggested over the years to reduce traffic congestion at peak hours in Port Louis. None is however easy or cheap. Technically they range from the familiar to the exotic and the innovative and financially from the prohibitive to the affordable. These include Harbour Bridge, Ring roads, mountain tunnel, a ferry across Port Louis, the reopening of Mahebourg harbour, carpooling, traffic control and parking management, road pricing, greater investment in roads and bridges, decentralising offices from the capital, Metro Express (ME) and bus rapid transit system (BRT) amongst others. None in itself is a panacea for the traffic gridlock as we require a combination of policy measures.

We have a duty to cut our coat according to our cloth. Rather than argue that ME is a superior solution, it is better to consider what is the most appropriate public transportation system in the particular context of Mauritius in terms of population size and density, traffic demand, affordability and financing. A detailed cost-benefit evaluation of each option should inform about the choice especially as some are very expensive to construct and operate. The ground rule seems to favour rail-based ME system in densely populated cities while in smaller places like Mauritius, the BRT appears as the preferred choice as it is more cost-effective.

For instance, we all would like Air Mauritius to acquire modern A 380 aircraft like Emirates to fly to London and Paris, especially during peak periods. But it simply does not make financial and economic sense precisely because of traffic density and affordability. Hence the choice of A 350 planes that better suit the requirements. While the ME is an extravagant project, it carries the risks of inflicting considerable financial pain to the country. Especially when viable, efficient, workable and more affordable alternatives exist.

As articulated by Minister Bodha between December 2014 and the second quarter of 2016, a combination of the following measures should help to alleviate traffic congestion:

  1. strengthen and accelerate the road decongestion programme with greater focus on construction and improvement of roads at strategic places ;
  2. build flyovers, bridges and grade separated junctions at key locations and roundabouts to fluidify traffic (Phoenix, Port Louis, etc.) ;
  3. continue the policy of investing in bypasses to relieve congested areas;
  4. undertake speedily the major road projects already announced such as A1-M1 and A1-A3 connectivity, the Port Louis ring road phases 2 and 3 to improve traffic flows and decongest Port Louis.
    Those measures constituted the backbone of the policies of the new Government to relieve traffic congestion. It was hailed as a strategy to address the transport gridlock for the next 20 years. Then all of a sudden and out of nowhere, the decision to introduce the ME is announced.

Other suggestions have been made to help further reduce traffic congestion such as to:

  1. decentralise both public and private sector offices away from Port Louis to avoid the bottleneck at peak hours. Hence the proposed construc- tion of an administrative city at Highlands (which is completely different from Heritage city) ;
  2. consider the use of flexi time at work to better spread traffic flows in the morning.

2.The best as the enemy of the good: efficient and more affordable alternatives do exist

A bus rapid transit system is cost effective and can impact more people.

The most viable alternative to the ME is the BRT which is a modern, efficient, high performance, safe, reliable and cost effective transport mode, especially those that exist in some cities in Columbia, Brazil and China.

BRT is a high quality, bus based transit system that trans- ports millions of commuters on a daily basis in over 170 cities across the world with a concentration in Asia and Latin America. Many more countries are considering BRT as an effective and competitive mode of transportation that can emulate the performance and amenities of ME. For two very simple reasons which are COSTS and AFFORDABILITY.

It can save taxpayers billions of scarce rupees while alleviating traffic congestion and providing good transit as it has substantially lower construction and equipment costs and lower operating and maintenance costs. It further avoids the accumulation of huge public debt or taking away scarce funds from other much needed public services.

It can reach more destinations, impact more people and attract greater ridership. It also has higher flexibility and better potential to integrate with the existing transport system. For instance, current employees, bus companies and taxi owners can easily be accommodated into the new transport mode and their interests safeguarded. It has the true potential to be a win–win alternative.

3.Need for more informed discussion and public scrutiny

The Port Louis ring road phase 1.

A major public infrastructure project like the ME is a strategic decision as the funding requirement is large and development takes a long time to complete. Costs and benefits must be carefully and thoroughly assessed. As it will be the most expensive single project ever undertaken in Mauritius, the last thing we want to do is to squander away our scarce financial resources and leave behind enormous debt for our children.

While it may be prestigious to implement the ME, it is notoriously expensive. The economic and environmental benefits are likely to be insufficient to offset its huge financial deficit. It would be a poisoned gift to future generations. Many LRT projects become unprofitable very fast and accumulate massive losses over time. For 30 years the Manila metro has been a bottomless money sink.

We should lift the cloak of secrecy and confidentiality that shrouds such an expensive project which will tie us for many decades. It is time to inform the nation of the full financial, social and economic consequences of the ME. There is necessity to have a closer look at the project and to subject it to greater public scrutiny.

If demand and revenues are insufficient, the population will have to pay through Government providing equity, grants and subsidies and minimum riderships, revenue and debt guarantees. The country can ill afford such considerable costs especially when efficient and more affordable alternatives exist.

One way out is to have a balanced view and an even handed assessment of the project by institutions such as the World Bank or the African Development Bank. They have the expertise and know how to undertake such a review as many such transportation projects have been implemented (or not) under their watch in several developing countries.

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