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Possible Hyperloop could hype the economy

YOUNGSTOWN — If all of the right factors line up to connect Cleveland to Chicago via a Hyperloop, and a second phase of the project is pursued to connect Pittsburgh and Youngstown, the Mahoning Valley could see a $3 billion economic boom.

Kathleen Sarli, director of planning for the Cleveland-based Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, gave a presentation Monday morning to a handful of “stakeholders” at the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments in Youngstown to talk about the proposal that could connect Cleveland and Chicago in a 28-minute trip, Youngstown to Pittsburgh in a 12-minute trip and Youngstown to Cleveland in a 16-minute trip.

“That’s pretty fast,” Sarli said.

The Hyperloop would use electromagnetic propulsion and rechargeable batteries, creating a “silent and emission-free” mode of transportation using “airplane speeds” on or under the ground, of up to 760 mph. The speeds depend on how straight the route is.

Now that a $1.2 million feasibility study has been completed, NOACA is waiting to see if it will get a $1.5 million grant to map out routes, Sarli said.

The first route that would be built is Cleveland to Chicago — a relatively straight course. In the second phase, suggested routes to complete include possible connections to Youngstown, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cincinnati, Detroit, Toronto, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Des Moines and Buffalo.

A third phase could add connections to Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Syracuse, Albany, New York City, Boston and Montreal.

If the development occurs and a hub is created in Youngstown, the study found the center could generate a $3 billion economic impact, Sarli said.

The impact estimated is $27 billion for Chicago, $12.3 billion for Cleveland, $12 billion for Pittsburgh and $5.2 billion for Toledo, according to information provided by Sarli. Adding in the impact to airports in and around those cities, and the total impact could be as much as $74 billion for the region.

Sarli said some of the towns the Hyperloop might pass through wouldn’t even know the system is there after the tubes are installed underground.

The public will be invited to give input as the routes are developed. Sarli said she was hoping for more than the four people who showed up at the Monday meeting, meant to share preliminary information with local lawmakers and representatives from the chamber of commerce.

If all goes well, a person could live in or around Youngstown, benefiting from the low cost of living, and commute to a high-paying job in Chicago or Cleveland with ease. The easy travel, though, could eventually increase the cost of living and property values in and around Youngstown, according to the presentation.

Other transportation hubs that have been developed around the world have created billions in economic benefits, Sarli said.

The route it takes is meant to travel near major airports to make the Hyperloop useful as freight carrier, Sarli said.

And the design of the capsules used in the Hyperloop technology will make it valuable to the “new” economy, dependent on small shipments of more specialized goods, such as Amazon orders, Sarli said.

Freight as an industry is expected to grow by 5 percent per year, Sarli said.

“It really is a fast-growing market” that is perfect for Hyperloop technology, Sarli said.

The smoother the terrain and route, the less expensive it will be to build, Sarli said, so the Youngstown to Pittsburgh route may be a more expensive connection to build.

Other groups around the country and world are working on their own technology.

Virgin Hyperloop One has an example of a Hyperloop pod. The North Carolina Regional Transportation Alliance is exploring the tech, and Saudi Arabia is building a test track with the company.

NOACA is partnered with Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, and working with the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Ohio Department of Transportation, the Cleveland Foundation, the Ohio Turnpike and several other government and nonprofits.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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