By Steven L. Edwards
It comes perhaps as something of a surprise that the first hyperloop system in the United States will not break ground anywhere along the East or West Coast corridors, locations normally associated with the launching of great-leaps-forward in high-tech. Rather, the innovation-savvy and curiously underestimated heartland of the United States is poised to be the inaugural site of the most fascinating new transportation system to advance the future of mobility in 100 years. We are rather proud to have been a prime mover in that launch.
For the Show-Me state of Missouri has demonstrated, once more, that it is at the forefront of pioneering risk-taking in ways unexpected yet somehow not surprising. It was here that the first interstate highway in the United States was opened and where the Spirit of St. Louis took flight.
As the independent consultancy commissioned this year with assessing the feasibility of a Virgin Hyperloop One route between St. Louis and Kansas City, we found ourselves in the very fortunate but all too rare circumstance of private entrepreneurship and public policy coming together in focused cooperation.
First, there is the technology of the “the loop” itself, which stands to become the most important form of transportation in the next century by combining the best of air, high-speed rail and cargo transport with a fraction of the expense and none of the pollution or logistical inconveniences of other transportation modes. And this, at speeds of up to 670 mph with zero direct emissions.
Such an advance in passenger and cargo transport will result in connecting the state’s two largest metro areas and the University of Missouri System into an interlinked economic powerhouse of 5 million residents. By our measure, annual travel time savings equating up to $410 million per year will result, as well as societal cost savings up to $91 million per year due to fewer accidents. Travel time between Kansas City and St. Louis will be reduced by approximately 3 hours to 28 minutes; from Columbia approximately 1.5 hours to 15 minutes.
The sustainability factor in all of this cannot be underestimated, particularly as it relates to Missouri’s global position in environmental sciences. Close to a dozen public and private institutions in the Missouri biotech cluster have attracted startup companies focusing on green technology, bio-renewables and renewable energy, while Kansas City has more agricultural-biotechnology and animal health companies than anywhere else in the world.
And here as well, Missouri possesses a foundation in real-world technological prowess to apply to a new and highly advanced technological infrastructure. Take, for instance, the fact of Boeing’s Integrated Defense Systems facility being headquartered in St. Louis and the work that is being done at the University of Missouri Tech Park at Fort Leonard Wood for research and business with the Army Research Lab to provide new military technologies. Meanwhile, the state is investing millions in its Center of Research Technology and Entrepreneurial Expertise and the Center for Emerging Technologies incubator. Missouri may count as the heartland, but it takes a technological back seat to no one.
Then, there was our work with the Missouri Hyperloop Coalition, comprising the St. Louis and Kansas City Chambers of Commerce (representing the destination points of the proposed route), the University of Missouri network and the Missouri Department of Transportation. The sense of vision and entrepreneurship demonstrated by this coalition laser-focused upon the prime movers of growth — technology and innovation — with a bare minimum of red tape and politics. Simply put, no region has been more proactive than Missouri in engaging with this technology and pushing for rapid commercialization. The public-private partnership in Missouri is moving as fast as any we have seen around the world.
The ultimate objective is to build a national network of Hyperloop, and Missouri is arguably the most logical place to start, given its strategic location and favorable economic and geographic attributes.
So, it is with a great sense of honor that we’ve been able to advance this hyperloop in the heartland, whose benefits to individuals, families and businesses will not only be measured in dollars, but in the time saved, the freedom gained, and the environments cleaned up for the sake of human society as is meant to be enjoyed and genuinely advanced.
Steven L. Edwards is the CEO of Black & Veatch.
SOURCE: STL Today