The usefulness of feasibility studies

Feasibility studies can be very helpful for guiding a community’s decision-making process. They can provide neutral, third party professional analysis including cost-benefit analysis, alternative options and verification.

In today’s world, the undertaking of any major project requires proper planning. This responsibility is especially important to adhere to when taking on public projects with taxpayer and donated charitable funds. When planning a project, bringing together key stakeholders and those with specific knowledge, skills and talents is critical for success. However, it is often needed to verify the planning by a neutral third party to ensure that what you are proposing is viable and appropriate for your community.

Yes, a feasibility study can be expensive, ranging from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. They are also time-consuming, sometimes taking several months or more to complete. However, the results of the study could potentially save significantly more time and money (not to mention the headaches and political fallout) by calling to attention potential shortfalls or better, alternate options of your existing plan.

Feasibility studies have several strong attributes that can assist communities with their decision-making process including:

  • Calculating initial costs
  • Legacy costs projection
  • Alternative options
  • Economic impact
  • Environmental impact
  • Identifying potential funding sources/sources of revenue
  • Identifying targeted areas of concern
  • Developing timelines
  • Verification of proposed project

Let us consider for a moment a community who desires to develop an extensive pathway system by extending the shoulders of the roads. This multi-year project will require significant funding and planning to be successful. Many experts and community leaders have planned out this pathway network and have garnered the strong support of the community. Prior to construction, however, it would be prudent to obtain a feasibility study to verify their plans and explore many questions that still may be unresolved. For example:

  • Is there demand for this type of pathway?
  • What would be the projected economic impact on tourism for the community?
  • Are the projected costs accurate and what are the expected legacy costs to maintain and repair the pathway?
  • Are there alternative options such as rails-to-trails conversions or power line right-of-ways?
  • Are the projected sources of revenue adequate to fund construction of the pathways?
  • What are the safety ramifications of this type of pathway?
  • Are there targeted areas of concern along the proposed pathway (such as bridges and culverts) that may require extensive additional expansion and therefore significantly increase costs?

These and many more questions can be provided by feasibility study performed by a competent third party.

So how do you identify the consultant best suited to your needs? Depending on your organization and size of the project, you may be able to hand-pick your consultant or you may need to put the feasibility study out for bid. In either case, Michigan State University Extension strongly recommends that you interview your potential consultant to determine whether or not their qualifications will meet your needs. In the situation above, for example, do you choose any engineering firm simply because of their reputation or your past experiences with them? Or, do you do some investigating to determine which firm has staff with extensive experience and expertise developing trail systems in your region?

Did you find this article useful?