Hyperloop

This artist’s rendering depicts an elevated tube that would be used to transport passengers and cargo.

It turns out St. Louis doesn’t need an NFL team after all.

Just climb aboard the Hyperloop near the St. Louis Arch and ride like a bullet through an elevated tube that spans the state’s mid-section. Thirty minutes later, after your pod arrives near Arrowhead Stadium, you forget that the Rams ever called Missouri their home.

That’s the vision behind the Missouri Hyperloop, a futuristic plan to move cargo and passengers at speeds of up to 670 mph. Missouri lawmakers are ready to climb aboard. At a press conference last week, they announced an intention to partner with the company Virgin Hyperloop One to build a 12-mile test track, at a cost of up to $500 million.

Look, we don’t want to put the brakes on progress here. Missouri hasn’t been at the forefront of transportation innovation since the steamship days. Today, we have the highways and bridges to prove it.

So the chance to partner with a private company, in this case Virgin Hyperloop, may prove too enticing to ignore. The company’s investors, including GE Ventures, Abu Dhabi Capital Group and Cyprus-based Caspian VC Partners, see a Hyperloop as a technology that has the potential to disrupt long-distance transportation the same way that Uber impacted shorter travel within cities.

Surely, transportation won’t be the same in the future. Germany is experimenting with hybrid trucks that connect to overhead power lines on the Autobahn. Amazon and UPS want to deliver your packages with drones. Hyperloop One seeks to develop an on-demand transportation model using pods propelled by magnetic levitation through and electric propulsion. It sounds like something from a Philip K. Dick novel.

Missouri should be ready for this, with both investment and an openness toward working with private firms, but also with regulation and clear-eyed awareness of potential risks.

A cautionary tale can be found in California, where voters in 2008 approved $10 billion in bonds for a first-in-the-nation, 800-mile, high-speed rail project that was supposed to cost $35 billion.

More than 10 years later, the project was abandoned after costs ballooned to nearly $100 billion. If you type “boondoggle” into a search engine, California’s rail saga should come up.

In Missouri, conservative lawmakers pride themselves on our state not being anything like California. They’re also tired of having some of the worst transportation infrastructure in the nation.

As one of multiple states exploring Hyperloop, they will have to balance those competing instincts. Let’s have an eye for future possibilities, but let’s not forget past missteps in pursuing something that looks great on the drawing board.