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Missouri misses out on hyperloop

Austin Huguelet Springfield News-Leader

Missouri politicians' push to attract a coveted hyperloop to the state has come up short.

Virgin Hyperloop said Thursday it will build its $500 million certification center and test track in West Virginia after considering proposals from Missouri and more than a dozen other states.

The project was advertised as a proving ground for a new generation of ground transportation capable of moving passengers and cargo through vacuum tubes at more than 600 miles per hour.

Missouri sought the project hoping testing would go well and Virgin, which is based in California, would build on the test track to connect St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City. If the technology worked as advertised, that kind of project would cut a four-hour cross-state drive to 30 minutes.

Promoters had said such a shift would merge local economies and labor pools, create thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars in economic impact.

State universities, including the University of Missouri-Columbia, were expected to see a boost from all the research and development, too.

Missouri Speaker of the House Elijah Haahr, a Springfield Republican and a top booster for the project, said being the first place in the U.S. with a working track would be a magnet for other things, too.

“Having the test track makes us sort of the focal point for design,” Haahr said in January. “It puts us back in the forefront of being a tech-heavy place that millennials want to come to, but a lot of students want to come to as well.”

On the other hand, he said, losing it to another state might mean waiting decades for the technology.

A state task force report suggested the route could be built along the Interstate 70 corridor for somewhere between $7.3 billion and $10.4 billion.

And after that came out, lawmakers passed a bill in May that would let the state highway commission partner with the company to build it, though some were skeptical of the idea and barred the commission from spending road funds on it.

But Haahr said Thursday that other states had strong pitches, too.  

“West Virginia presented a very united front,” he wrote in a text message. “Both the federal and state delegation all were pulling in the same direction. Virgin told us we had made the final four but I always knew that we had tough competition from them, Ohio and Texas."

Haahr, who is leaving office early next year due to term limits, said he’s hopeful that state universities can still help out with the technology and that Missouri can remain a destination when any hyperloops come to the Midwest.

Construction in West Virginia is expected to begin in 2022 on the site of a former coal mine, Reuters reported. Virgin said in a news release it hopes to get a safety certification from the federal government by 2025 and start commercial operations by 2030.

The company is also working on a route in India.