Planning accelerates for Missouri hyperloop route

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COLUMBIA- Missouri is back in the running for the Hyperloop, a proposed high-speed, high-tech route that would connect Kansas City, Columbia and St. Louis.

The hyperloop would make it possible for passengers to cross the state in the time it takes to watch a single half-hour episode of their favorite Netflix series. 

This week, the Missouri Hyperloop Coalition announced the launch of a feasibility study to determine the potential for bringing a hyperloop to the state. The coalition is a public-private partnership between technology companies, engineering firms, the UM System, MoDOT and regional development organizations.

Engineering firm Black and Veatch, along with other members of the coalition, will conduct the feasibility study. It will look at the possible economic effects of a hyperloop route in the state, as well as construction costs, project timelines, and funding ideas. 

Missouri fell out of the running for the hyperloop bid from Virgin Hyperloop One in Sept. 2017.

However, the formation of the coalition and the initiation of the feasibility study led the company to revisit Missouri as a possible site of the world's first commercial hyperloop. 

Current concepts of the hyperloop look like futuristic subway systems, where travelers zip along in capsule-like pods at speeds of up to 700 miles per hour through low-pressure tubes.

The Missouri Hyperloop Coalition's proposed route runs along the current I-70 corridor.

Bill Turpin, president of the Missouri Innovation Center, said the corridor is an attractive pilot location for a hyperloop system.

"If you look at the birthplace of the interstate highway, it was right here in Missouri. We have this stretch of I-70 that's pretty straight and fairly level, and a lot of the right-of-way is already owned by the state," Turpin said.

Spanning nearly 250 miles, the trip from Kansas City to St. Louis would normally take just under 4 hours via I-70. With the hyperloop, that trip would take a mere 30 minutes.

According to MoDOT, I-70 was designed to carry 12,000 to 18,000 vehicles per day. Today, the highway carries about 30,000 vehicles each day, with nearly one-third of them being freight trucks.

Larry Bickford, a businessman driving through Columbia on his way from Indiana to Kansas City on Wednesday, said he's noticed traffic getting worse on the interstate in recent years. 

"You don't worry so much about the traffic, but it just makes it that much more dangerous," Bickford said.

To Bickford, the concept of a hyperloop "makes sense." He said the hyperloop might help alleviate traffic on the interstate, keeping the roads safer and less congested for people passing through.  

Turpin said the hyperloop feasibility study will be privately funded and should be completed in seven to nine months. Virgin Hyperloop One could determine its top three potential building sites, based on submitted regional feasibility studies, by 2019.