LIMA — If completed, the proposed Midwest Corridor hyperloop project connecting Lima to Columbus and Chicago could generate over $19 billion in direct transportation benefits and $300 billion in economic gains, according to a feasibility study released last week by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.
The study is the latest in a series of planning documents created to turn some of the theoretical scenarios of the hyperloop technology — an advanced high-speed transportation system using pneumatic air pressure to push levitating pods through low-friction tubes — into hard data.
For example, if commuters are able to use the hyperloop as currently proposed, the study estimates that travelers could commute between Lima and Columbus in less than 30 minutes at speeds of 500 miles per hour. In that same vein, traveling from Pittsburgh to Chicago would take just over an hour.
To arrive at the $19.1 billion figure in direct transportation benefits, researchers relied on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2019 Benefit-Cost Analysis guidelines. Variables weighed include the estimated end-value of hyperloop infrastructure and the savings seen over a 38-year-period due to reductions in travel time, upkeep costs, emissions and traffic accidents, which would theoretically result from a hyperloop stretching from Pittsburgh to Chicago.
Outside of the direct transportation savings pulled in over the life of the project, researchers also note that an additional $300 billion in economic benefits could also result due to secondary effects, such as a quadrupling of time-sensitive freight capacity in the region by 2059.
The recently released feasibility study also answers the most basic question of the Midwest Connect Hyperloop project when it was originally proposed in 2018: Is the hyperloop project even possible in the region?
Due to a hyperloop system requiring long straight stretches to ramp up to its fastest speeds, engineering consultant company AECOM examined existing rail corridors to see if the proposed hyperloop can use the same right-of-ways.
Their findings show that some sections along the 525-mile route will need to find alternatives to rail corridors if the project moves forward. Researchers noted that existing rail through major portions of Ohio in the northwest and east parts of the state doesn’t go straight enough for the hyperloop to use at optimal speeds. Potential re-routes could actually place the hyperloop on an elevated track just south of Lima, or in a tunnel through the city.
While the feasibility study is now finished, project managers have a long way to go before the hyperloop becomes a reality. Next steps include further collaboration with related transportation projects in development, working with hyperloop companies to advance the technology’s certification and monitoring the status of federal regulations on the new tech.
In other words, it’ll take at least a decade for a final build even under the best circumstances.
“For the purposes of proving feasibility, this study assumes the corridor is developed and service is in place by 2030, tut the actual construction year of the Midwest Connect hyperloop corridor is subject to milestones that have not been met at the conclusion of this study,” the study reads.
A full copy of the hyperloop feasibility study can be found at limaohio.com.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.