Clarity and credibility should be the goals of the presentation. Because benefit-cost analysis is sometimes used to justify rather than evaluate a project by overstating benefits, understating costs, or using inappropriate alternatives, decision-makers and the general public are often skeptical about its validity and value. Therefore, the presentation should:

  • Clearly state the purpose of the analysis. What decision is it intended to inform? Will the decision be made solely on the basis of the benefit-cost analysis or will there be other important considerations not included in the analysis, such as economic impacts on the community?
  • Provide a clear description of alternatives and the measures used to evaluate them.
  • Compare the benefit-cost measures for all alternatives.
  • Highlight the costs and benefits that most affected differences between alternatives.

Sensitivity analysis should be used to test the sensitivity of the results to different assumptions about benefits and costs; the results should be included in the final report. If there are significant differences in rankings as a result of uncertain estimates, then ranges can be presented. In some cases making the spreadsheets used for the analysis available to interested parties so that they can modify assumptions that may enhance the credibility of the findings.

The presentation is as important as the analysis itself. If the benefit-cost analysis is executed and documented with an eye toward its purpose and eventual presentation, the presentation will be better as well as easier to prepare.

Presentation Content

The presentation of the benefit cost analysis and results will vary depending on the audience. Below is a table showing typical audiences and the type of information that is generally appropriate to each. This is only a guide. In general, the benefit cost analysis should be documented and presented with as much information and detail as would be of interest to and understood by each audience.

Presentation Content for Different Audiences

 Type of Information
 ClientDecision Makers
Interested Public /Stakeholders
 General Public
 Decision to be made  X X X X
 Description of alternatives  X X X X
 Comparison of measures for each alternative X X X X
 Range of uncertainty in comparison X X X 
 Benefits and costs considered X X X 
 Importance of each benefit and cost to the result X X X 
 Discount rate X   
 Geographic and temporal scope of analysis X   
 Key assumptions X X X 
 All assumptions
 Sensitivity of results to uncertainty in cost and benefit estimates and assumptions X X X 
 Methods used to estimate costs and benefits X   
 Impacts of benefits and costs on affected agencies and groups X X  
 Calculations/worksheets X   

Presentation Materials for Different Audiences

Decision Makers
Interested Public /Stakeholders
 General Public
 Press release
 Summary of BCA Findings and Approach
 X  X 
 Full report documenting the BCA
 X X  
 Oral presentation materials for workshops
  X X 
 Website containing summary, full report and notice of presentations or workshops
 X X X X
 Detailed briefing materials (presentation and handouts)
 Mailed or emailed summary materials, website URL, and notice of any presentations or workshops
 X X X 

Tables and Graphs for Presenting Benefit-Cost Information

Tables and graphs are often easier to use and understand than text when presenting values and calculations. Below are a few examples of the tabular presentation of parameter assumptions and calculations used in the calculation of travel time and the presentation of the benefit cost analysis results.

In the value of time by user type table, the assumed values and calculation of the value of vehicle travel time is shown. In the original report, additional citations and explanation pertaining to the individual assumptions and values was also provided following the table.

Value of Time by User Type-Value of One Hour of Travel Time (Dollar values are in $1995)

6-Tire Truck
3 to 4 Axle Truck
4-Axle Combination Truck
5-Axle Combination Truck
 Business Travel
 In-Vehicle Value per Person
 $16.50 $16.50 $16.50
 Average Vehicle Occupancy
 - 1.05 1.0 1.12 1.12
 Value per Vehicle
 - $2.65 $7.16 $6.41 $6.16
 Value of Inventory
 -   $0.60 $0.60
 Personal Travel
 In-Vehicle Value per Person
 $8.50 - - - -
 Average Vehicle Occupancy
 1.67 - --
Average Value per Vehicle
 $10.17 $19.98 $23.66  $25.49 $25.24
Source: FHWA. Toolbox for Regional Policy Analysis. Portland Freeway Benefit Cost Case Study.

A summary table can be used to concisely and compactly present the results of the benefit cost analysis. In this example table, the present value of the transportation project costs and benefits, as well as the net present value of the project benefits and benefit cost ratio are displayed.

Simplified Example of a Results Summary Table
(Dollar values are in $2008)

 Calendar Year
Project Year
Affected Drivers
 Travel Time Saved (Hours)1
 Total Value of Time Saved2
 Initial Costs
 Operations & Maintenance Costs3
 Undiscounted Net Benefits
 Discounted at 7%
 2011 1 ..............  .................................... $38,500,000 $6,000,000 $44,500,000 -$41,588,785
 2012 2 80,000 1,040,000$14,248,000
 .................. $700,000 $13,548,000$11,833,348
 2013 395,000
 1,235,000 $16,919,500 .................. $700,000 $16,219,500 $13,239,943
 2014 4 100,000 1,300,000 $17,810,000  .................. $700,000 $17,110,000 $13,053,137
 2015 5 102,000 1,326,000 $18,166,200  .................. $700,000 $17,466,200 $12,453,159
 2016... 6 109,000 1,417,000 $19,412,900  .................. $700,000 $18,712,900 $12,469,195
 ............... .......................................................
1. Number of drivers times three minutes a day (3/60 hours) over 260 workdays.
2. Hours at $13.70 per hour ($2008)
3. Includes costs from delays to users during construction.
Source: Federal Register. US DOT Notice of Funding Availability for the Department of Transportation’s National Infrastructure Investments Under the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for 2010, 75(104), June 1, 2010.

In addition to presenting the annual affected users, benefits, costs, and the final discounted net benefits, as shown above, a final summary table can display the final net present benefits of the project and the other final results measures from the analysis.

Summary Table of Final Results
 Present Value of Life-Cycle Costs (millions of dollars)
 Present Value of Life-Cycle Benefits (millions of dollars) $55.0
 Net Present Value Benefits (millions of dollars) $12.0
 Benefit Cost Ratio
 Rate of Return on Investment
 Payback Period
 21 years

Graphical Display of Benefit-Cost Relationships

The benefits and costs of 3 alternatives, A, B, and C, are plotted on a graph below, with benefits on the vertical axis and costs on the horizontal axis. A number of things can be illustrated with such a plot. The slope of the line through the origin and a project's benefit-cost point is its benefit-cost ratio; the project with the steepest slope has the highest ratio. The vertical intercept of a 45° line through the point is the benefit minus the cost (net present value). The project with the highest line has the greatest benefit minus cost. If some minimum benefit is required, projects with benefits below that minimum can be eliminated from consideration. Similarly, if funds are limited, projects with costs above the limit can be eliminated.

In this case project B has the highest benefit-cost ratio and the highest net present value and C the lowest.
A graph shows three projects: project B, which has high benefits and low costs; project A, which has lower benefits and slightly higher costs; and project C, which has benefits that are between projects A and B and costs that are higher than both projects.

The same type of plot can be used to display the level of uncertainty associated with each project. Vertical lines can be used to indicate the range of benefit estimates.

A graph shows three projects, labeled B, A, and C, which have progressively higher costs and lower benefits. However, a vertical line through project A indicates that it has the smallest range of possible benefits, making its outcome more certain.

In this case, A might be selected because there is less uncertainty regarding its benefits and there is a chance that the benefits of B might be lower than either A or C. If both benefits and costs are uncertain, then a rectangle could be drawn around each point.

Graphical Display of Benefit Uncertainty

The STEAM model developed by the FHWA displays the likelihood of various benefit levels as a probability distribution as shown in the screen picture below.



Federal Register. Notice of Funding Availability for the Department of Transportation’s National Infrastructure Investments Under the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for 2010, 75(104), June 1, 2010.

FHWA. Toolbox for Regional Policy Analysis. Portland Freeway Benefit Cost Case Study.