A tube awaits entry into the tube processing building, where they are painted and prepped for use. Courtesy hyperloop-one.com

Greeley gets hyped about Hyperloop project


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GREELEY — When it comes to snagging the vaunted Hyperloop project, the odds appear to be in Northern Colorado’s favor, with three of 11 U.S. finalists running through the region.

Currently under development in the Nevada desert, Hyperloop is Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s vision for a futuristic, ground-based transportation system that would rival commercial air travel. A recent company press release explains the theory: Passengers and cargo are loaded into a pod and accelerate gradually via electric propulsion through a low-pressure tube. The pod quickly lifts above the track using magnetic levitation and glides at airline speeds for long distances due to ultra-low aerodynamic drag.

After a call for proposals, the Los Angeles-based firm Hyperloop One whittled the list of possible sites from more than 2,500 to just 11 in the United States and another 24 in other global locations. Once the system is successfully tested at the Nevada facility, what the company is dubbing its “Kitty Hawk” moment, Hyperloop One plans to choose a trio of finalists and begin negotiations to build a working model.

Of those 11 proposed U.S. routes on the short list, three have some type of Front Range component connecting Denver to Cheyenne. While two call for constructing the tube west of Interstate 25 — one of which would connect to Greeley — the third offers a more easterly path that would pass through Greeley.

And Greeley city manager Roy Otto thinks the chances of that route reaching the next ‘finalist’ phase are good. “They (the Hyperloop people) were initially looking for about a 40-mile demonstration project,” he said. “And when you think about one of the opportunities Hyperloop provides, it’s for moving goods and services and … Denver International Airport is obviously important as it relates to that, and Greeley is, ironically, 40 miles due north of that facility.”

As Otto sees it, another benefit to that particular link is the fact that the elevated track would mostly travel over farm land, allowing for a fairly low-impact project. “You could still farm underneath it,” he offered, “and acquisition of the necessary right-of-way would be cost-effective in comparison to what I understand some of the other routes are we’re competing with, so I’m hopeful that from that standpoint, our site would be competitive in the selection process.”

From early on, the Colorado Department of Transportation has been involved with the effort to bring Hyperloop to the area. Peter Kosinski, director of CDOT’s RoadX program, said it was a natural fit for his department.

“RoadX is our initiative to integrate technology into our transportation system,” he explained. “We’re looking at all modes of transportation, but Hyperloop is a new, emerging technology that we think warrants investigation.”

And Kosinski shares Otto’s enthusiasm for making the next cut, rattling off a litany of reasons. “I think it’s the right length according to [Hyperloop’s] desires … it ties to a well-established existing mode of transportation, DIA, and I think Colorado as a whole is attractive given that our diverse market has interesting spinoff technology. So I think there’s not just one factor but a whole bunch of them.”

But while Kosinski is confident in reaching the finalist stage, he says no one is quite sure what that would entail from a financial standpoint.

“We fully envision this to be some sort of public partnership, but the terms of that partnership really haven’t been discussed in detail,” he said. “We don’t know if it’s something the state can do (since) we already face funding challenges in relation to keeping our traditional infrastructure maintained.”

To offset some of the costs, Kosinski said the staff at Hyperloop have shown an interest in greenfield development opportunities. “So that was also one of the factors that determined the initial route, because obviously if we want to do something, say, five miles east of Greeley, there’s fairly good space there for development and to pull in some of those resources to help fund the overall project.”

The so-called Team Rocky Mountain Hyperloop route would cover 360 miles, stretching from Cheyenne to Pueblo, with a spur connecting Denver to Vail. When complete, travel time between Greeley and Denver would take about five minutes, while the Denver-to-Vail leg is expected to be about an 8½-minute trip.

Otto said optimism is running high.

“When you go from 2,000-some-odd proposals down to 11, that gives you a level of confidence, and then when I think about the quality of the CDOT employees that are shepherding this project along, it does give me great hope and excitement about what the future might look like.”

A decision on the final three routes is expected by mid-summer.