The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission released a study showing that a hyperloop connecting Columbus with Chicago and Pittsburgh would be possible to build, although it didn't consider the cost of such an endeavor.
MORPC released results of its Midwest Connect hyperloop feasibility study on Wednesday. By sending pods of passengers through above-ground tubes at about 500 miles per hour, the proposed route would just take 18 minutes to go from Columbus to Pittsburgh, and 29 from Columbus to Chicago.
“Feasibility means it is physically feasible, not necessarily getting deeper into the financial and other aspects of it in this point of time,” said Thea Ewing, MORPC director of transportation and infrastructure development. “But we needed to know that a corridor could actually be identified from a geography standpoint.”
MORPC's study determined whether existing roadways and rail corridors could be used for a route, instead of purchasing track from landowners.
“This is a technology that is really fast, which means we can’t make extreme curves or go across really hilly terrain,” Ewing said. “So trying to find ways through places like that, like the eastern part of Ohio, is really important.”
The study identifies Lima, Columbus, Marysville and Dublin as potential hyperloop stations in Ohio. It says hyperloop research is important because Columbus is the second largest metro area in the U.S. without passenger rail service.
The report estimates the cost to customers would be 20 cents per mile. It estimates that a ticket from Columbus to Chicago would cost $60, and that a ticket from Columbus to Pittsburgh would cost $33.
The next step is working with Virgin Hyperloop One, whose worldwide contest in 2017 named the Midwest Connect route one of 10 finalists, to see if Central Ohio can become a certification site for the technology. The aim would be determining whether the U.S. government would support such technology, and what regulations it would impose.
“(Virgin Hyperloop One) would really love to sink a deal for their certification site by the end of this year,” Ewing said. “I would say COVID of course impacts that, because we were anticipating that by the end of the year, and we were anticipating that by now they would be in negotiations with the site they selected, and they’re a little further behind that.”
Ewing says it’s impossible to know the potential cost of constructing a hyperloop until the certification phase is complete.
“Capital cost estimates are not prepared for each of the initial alternatives,” the report states. “Engineering complexity will make the cost of an alternative relatively high compared to less complex alignments."
MORPC estimated that the development and operation of the hyperloop is esimated to generate about $19.1 billion in transportation benefits and $300 billion in wider economic benefits.
The feasibility started in 2018 and is part of a broader plan by MORPC to determine whether there are options for faster connections to Chicago and Pittsburgh.