JEFFERSON CITY — The long-term goal is to build a futuristic people-mover linking St. Louis and Kansas City.
But, as part of a study released Monday, Missouri should first build a 15-mile track to test the feasibility of tubed transport.
That’s the main takeaway from the 176-page report from Missouri House Speaker Elijah Haahr, who formed a task force in March to study whether Missouri should push forward on what is known as the “hyperloop.”
According to the report, a public-private partnership should be formed to build the test track in order to become the national epicenter of hyperloop studies.
“Given the anticipated costs of the linear infrastructure required to build a tubed transport system, it makes sense to pool resources and focus on a single site for research, development and certification of the technology,” the report says.
Last year, Kansas City-based engineering company Black & Veatch said the pneumatic tube transportation line that would transport passengers along the 250-mile expanse between the two anchor cities in less than 30 minutes would be feasible to build.
The report notes that the engineering study could give Missouri a leg-up on competition if the state moves fast.
“This advantage will dissipate should we fail to capitalize on our momentum,” the report notes.
The 31-member panel, chaired by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, met for seven months. Among those on the task force are state lawmakers, University of Missouri System President Mun Choi, members of Gov. Mike Parson’s administration and representatives of business groups.
Travis Brown, a longtime associate of billionaire megadonor Rex Sinquefield, also is on the panel, as is Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, director of St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
The report puts the price tag on the test track at between $300 million and $500 million. The cost to build a track linking St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City is estimated at $10.4 billion.
Money to build the first phase could come from a mix of federal and private dollars. The Missouri Department of Transportation won’t be asked to chip in money that would typically go for road and bridge repair, said Andrew Smith, who served as vice chairman of the panel.
Smith said a location for the test track hasn’t been identified. He anticipates St. Louis and Kansas City submitting bids to serve as home to the enterprise.
Smith said potential competitors include Ohio, Texas and North Carolina.
The report says the University of Missouri should take the lead on the research and testing, which could take as long as seven years.
“Before humans begin zipping between cities in near-vacuum tubes at 670 mph, an extensive testing and certification process must take place,” the report notes.
The report does include some caveats. For example, it says the system faces the risk of not being certified for human safety by federal regulators. It also might not work as intended over a long distance. And, it might never be commercially self-sustaining, requiring governmental entities to chip in to pay for its operation.
“Being a pioneer for any new technology always comes with some risk. Realizing the full benefits of the Missouri Hyperloop will require building trust and understanding of the technology with the targeted market,” the report says.
Smith said he’s convinced the technology will work. The biggest roadblock, he said, might be political.
“It’s not a technical challenge. It’s a financial and regulatory challenge,” Smith said.
For example, the report notes that it is unclear which federal agency would certify the project or whether a new agency would have to be created to ensure the project is safe.
But, he added, “We’ve had great collaboration on this so far.”
The study also notes that the link could reduce the number of vehicles on Interstate 70 between the two big cities, allowing the Missouri Department of Transportation to spend less on fixing the often traffic-choked highway.