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Government Applying Safety Brakes to Hyperloop Momentum

The high-speed transit company is moving forward, planning routes, but the U.S. Senate has yet to approve the $5 million for safety and environmental standards. Cities hope it gets approved so they can push onward.

(TNS) — An 18-month, $1.3 million feasibility study released Monday says that a hyperloop route linking Cleveland to Chicago and Pittsburgh could start construction as soon as 2023 and be finished by 2028.

But whether that happens any time soon depends on whether the federal government agrees to spend $10 million on developing safety regulations and paying for an environmental-impact study.

The U.S. House of Representatives in June approved $5 million in spending by the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop safety and environmental standards for hyperloop routes, but the Senate, whose approval is necessary, has yet to approve the bill.

Los Angeles-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency also have applied for a $5 million grant from the Federal Administration, which they would use to pay for an environmental-impact study required before the Great Lakes project could begin construction.

Hyperloop, which still hasn’t been fully tested and proven safe, would transport passengers in capsules zooming on magnetic levitation tracks through elevated or subterranean vacuum tubes at speeds up to 760 mph, and at fares cheaper than air travel or rail in the Great Lakes region, according to the study released Monday.

Several routes from Chicago to Cleveland and Pittsburgh are under consideration, including one following public rights-of-way along interstate toll roads.

A hyperloop line from Pittsburgh to Chicago could cost $24.7 billion to $29.8 billion to build, the report said.

Written by TEMS, a consulting firm based in Frederick, Maryland, the report said that the economic benefits of hyperloop would far outweigh the costs, that the project would attract private investment, and the route would not need public subsidy.

Other hyperloop projects are in early stages of planning and study in Europe, the Middle East and other corridors in the U.S.

HTT’s founder and chairman Dirk Ahlborn said Monday that his company could start building a 10-kilometer hyperloop project in Abu Dhabi in late 2020 or early 2021.

Performing an environmental impact study would be a key step in determining whether a hyperloop route could be ready to build within four years.

Officials from HTT and NOACA said they recently applied jointly for the $5 million grant from the Federal Railway Administration.

As part of the application, HTT and NOACA pledged to collaborate on an environmental impact study, should they win the grant.

The application requires HTT and NOACA each to provide a $1 million match for the grant.

Grace Gallucci, NOACA’s executive director, said she would raise the money for her agency’s share in a manner similar to that which she used for the $1.3 million feasibility study.

In that case, NOACA committed $100,000 of its own cash, but obtained an additional $600,000 from the Cleveland Foundation, the Ohio Department of Transportation, the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission and the Richard K. Mellon Foundation of Pittsburgh.

“I would fund it [the new grant] the same way I did this [feasibility study],’’ Gallucci said. “I look at it as a comprehensive set of partners that would be engaged in the budget.”

Gallucci said the federal agency has not signaled when it would respond to the application.

Advocates of traditional public transit in Northeast Ohio have criticized hyperloop as a potential boondoggle and a waste at a time when agencies such as the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority are starved for resources.

Angie Schmitt of Cleveland, a nationally respected blogger and writer specializing in transportation, and author of an upcoming book on pedestrian safety recently tweeted: “Elites decide on big ticket, silver bullet thing. Justify it with studies. Red flags everywhere. Ignored. Everyone who (correctly) points out it is stupid is dismissed as a crank.”

Despite such critiques, hyperloop appears to have strong political support.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo and Tim Ryan of Youngstown signaled enthusiasm at Monday’s event.

“I think this is one of the most important projects,’’ Kaptur said in her formal remarks.

Turning to HTT CEO Andres de Leon, she said: “All I would like to ask the CEO is if he can find a way to Chunnel and take it to Canada or float it on Lake Erie, and link us to Ontario, Canada. If you link the O of Ontario to the O of Ohio, we could become our own country, we are so powerful, economically,’’ she said.

The City of Cleveland is on board, too.

Valarie McCall, chief of communications, government and international affairs for the administration of Mayor Frank Jackson, and chair of the NOACA board, extolled hyperloop.

“Make no mistake: This is transformational mobility management,’’ she said. “The city of Cleveland is in support of the further study of the feasibility of this project and we look forward to continuing partnership with our partners in bringing this project to fruition.”

©2019 The Plain Dealer, Cleveland. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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