North Texas government officials are still hopeful as they move into the second phase of the selection process for the location of the Virgin One Hyperloop certification track. The proposed location would be a six-mile track along State Highway 360 near DFW Airport.
Hyperloop is a magnetic levitation transportation system that could move goods and passengers at over 600 miles per hour inside low-pressure tubes along elevated tracks.
The Regional Transportation Council, a policy-making body made up of representatives of the area’s local governments, voted last week to approve a resolution that moves the proposal forward in the process. Nine members of the council opposed the resolution.
A decision about whether North Texas moves on to the third phase of selection is expected in late April.
The latest proposal offers between $190 million and $300 million in funding for the hyperloop project.
According to the presentation by transportation staff, the funding would include between $50-100 million in air quality funds because the hyperloop allegedly produces no emissions. It also includes a request for $50-100 million in federal taxpayer funds for money that won’t be allocated for California’s beleaguered high-speed rail efforts.
“We are trying to find money that doesn’t compete with anything,” Michael Morris, director of transportation at the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) said.
The resolution also includes a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao requesting consideration of the project for $30 million in INFRA grant money. INFRA grants are part of the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program.
According to the Department of Transportation website, the grant “program also incentivizes project sponsors to pursue innovative strategies, including public-private partnerships.”
When asked for a study or report that demonstrates the economic benefit to the region of the Virgin One Hyperloop certificate track facility, the NCTCOG couldn’t provide any.
If built and certified as a usable transportation technology, the track could become part of a larger track plan allowing for seven-minute travel from downtown Dallas or Fort Worth to DFW airport. Currently, a trip by commuter rail takes the average passenger about 50 minutes and a trip by car takes about 35 minutes.
Some members of the council, including Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, objected to the use of regional transportation funds for a project that lies entirely in Tarrant County. However, Tarrant County Commissioner Gary Fickes pointed out that the project is located “next to the largest economic engine in the region, DFW Airport which is 7/11 owned by Dallas.”
The nine votes in opposition to the resolution surrounded local government officials’ concern that Arlington, which is not currently a member of a regional transit authority, might benefit from the hyperloop track if built here and expanded over time.
Dallas City Councilmember Lee Kleinman proposed that the resolution include a provision that no city would only benefit from the hyperloop track unless it significantly participates in a regional transit authority system.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley replied to the amendment, “I’ve never seen us penalize anyone because they are not a member of one of the three transit agencies.” He went on to explain that he didn’t want to see the chance for the experimental pilot program thrown away for what he believes should be a separate discussion.
Several members joined Whitley in opposing the resolution as amended.
Director Morris, concerned about the appearance of a divided vote on the resolution, then asked the council to pass a generic motion welcoming Virgin One Hyperloop to the north Texas region. A motion to that effect passed unanimously.
Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.