Purpose: The purpose of this study was to perform a randomized, prospective trial that compares the transabdominal with the retroperitoneal approach to the aorta for routine infrarenal aortic reconstruction. Methods: From August 1990 through November 1993, patients undergoing surgery for abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) disease or aortoiliac occlusive disease (AIOD) were asked to participate in a randomized trial comparing the transabdominal incision (TAI) to the retroperitoneal incision (RPI) for aortic surgery. One hundred forty-five patients were randomized, with 75 (41 with AAA and 34 with AIOD) in the TAI group and 70 (40 with AAA and 30 with AIOD) in the RPI group. There were no significant differences between the groups in terms of age, sex, postoperative pain control (epidural vs patient-controlled analgesia), or comorbid conditions, except for a higher incidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the TAI group (21 vs 8 patients). Results: The incidence of intraoperative complications was similar for both groups. After surgery, the incidence of prolonged ileus (p = 0.013) and small bowel obstruction (p = 0.05) was higher in the TAI group. Overall, the RPI group had significantly fewer complications (p < 0.0001). The overall postoperative mortality rate (two deaths) was 1.4%, with both occurring in the TAI group (p = 0.507). The RPI group also had significantly shorter stays in the intensive care unit (p = 0.006), a trend toward shorter hospitalization (p = 0.10), lower total hospital charges (p = 0.019), and lower total hospital costs (p = 0.017). There was no difference in pulmonary complications (p = 0.71). In long-term follow-up (mean 23 months), the RPI group reported more incisional pain (p = 0.056), but no difference was found in incisional hernias or bulges (p = 0.297). Conclusions: We conclude that the RPI approach for abdominal aortic surgery is associated with fewer postoperative complications, shorter stays in the hospital and intensive care unit, and lower cost. There is, however, an increase in long-term incisional pain. Current methods of postoperative pain control seem to decrease the incidence of pulmonary complications. (J VASC SURG 1995;21:174-83.).