It has been called goofy and a game-changer, revolutionary and a pipe dream. Whatever the label, it has state officials gushing.
Hyperloop One, a futuristic, high-speed tube transportation system that could wisk passengers and freight from St. Louis to Kansas City in under 30 minutes, is a concept right out of “The Jetsons.”
People would travel in pods, propelled by a custom electric motor, that would float above a track using magnetic levitation.
Hyperloop One’s sponsors boast the transportation system, which can run on renewable energy sources like wind, solar and kinetic energy, can move people and goods at airline speeds for the price of a bus ticket.
The buzz over Hyperloop in Missouri got going when the company announced that a proposal for a St. Louis to Kansas City route along I-70 was a finalist in its “Global Challenge” competition to receive business and engineering help to determine the commercial viability of bringing the technology to the state.
According to reports, several groups are raising about $1.5 million for a feasibility study that would be the first step in bringing the transportation system to our state, which has the blessing of Missouri Transportation officials.
Hyperloop got another push when Gov. Eric Greitens pitched it in a statewide bid to entice Amazon to locate its HQ2 project in Missouri.
It was no secret St. Louis and Kansas City were submitting independent proposals to land the $5 billion project that could create up to 50,000 high-paying jobs.
But in a surprise move, Greitens touted Hyperloop as the backbone of an innovation corridor linking St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City in a plan to have Amazon locate campuses across the state.
Some deemed the improbable statewide bid a clever way for Greitens to avoid picking one city over the other in the high-stakes bidding war to attract Amazon’s second headquarters. Others called it a publicity stunt for Hyperloop.
But before dismissing Hyperloop outright, consider Maryland, which this week approved the construction of a tunnel for a Hyperloop route connecting Baltimore and Washington, D.C. While it’s not clear where the funding for that route will come from, it is clear Missouri isn’t the only state courting the new technology.
We shouldn’t pooh-pooh the state for forward-thinking at a time when many contend there is a transportation revolution underway. We should be looking down the road and around the corner in this era of rapid innovation.
There wasn’t a lot of discussion about autonomous cars 10 years ago. Today they are traversing our roadways. The internal combustion engine could very well be obsolete a decade from now.
But before the state gets too far ahead of itself, embracing ultramodern technology, we should soberly acknowledge that cars and trucks aren’t going away anytime soon. They may be powered by electric engines and capable of driving themselves, but we will still be using them in the foreseeable future.
That means we still need to maintain our state’s existing roads and bridges which has proven to be a challenge. Missouri has the seventh largest highway system but ranks 46th among the states in revenue spent per mile.
While Amazon may be impressed by a futuristic cross-state corridor transportation system, the rest of us still need reliable roads and bridges to get to work each day.
It’s ironic that the state is supporting an inaugural Hyperloop route along I-70 that is estimated to cost a billion dollars to construct, when the same interstate corridor requires billions in improvements right now.
While there are discussions underway to raise the state’s fuel tax a few cents, the additional revenue wouldn’t be enough to cover the costs to rebuild I-70. Governors and lawmakers have ignored the state’s infrastructure for too long.
It’s easy to get distracted by the next big thing. It’s harder to solve the pressing problems staring us in the face.
What we really need right now is a bold, innovative plan to fix what we have before we leapfrog to the next technology.