America Can Lead on Sustainable Transportation, but Congress Needs to Act

You’re 28 years old, a lieutenant in the Army, about to go on a mission that will define the next 100 years of your country. 60 days, 3,000 miles. The pressure is on. But, this isn’t your typical mission. This is a convoy to test the nation’s infrastructure.

That was the assignment before Dwight D. Eisenhower, years before he created the Interstate Highway System. Compared to the infrastructure he saw in Germany, the United States was falling behind.

 At his core, he felt it was the federal government’s responsibility to provide the nation with infrastructure to improve mobility and economic prosperity. This type of investment could put America back on top. 

And he was right. But it’s been 65 years since that monumental legislation. The interstate may have been the answer in the 1900s, but we need something new for the 21st century and beyond.

What exactly that something is has been debated in negotiations for the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. Are we destined for a future defined by sustainable aviation, high-speed rail or electric vehicles? Deep in the 3,000-page bill may lie the answer – something at the intersection of them all.

Hyperloop can move people at the speed of an airplane, with capital and operating costs that are a fraction of high-speed rail’s, and with zero direct emissions like an electric vehicle. It would not replace one or all of those but complement them, with the goal of creating an interconnected nationwide network where we can move quickly, efficiently, and seamlessly. A new interstate, of sorts.

This is the benefit of creating a new mode of transportation from scratch: We don’t have to rely on legacy infrastructure. We start with a clean slate and can redefine the future, together. We can leverage the best elements of existing systems, while eliminating the worst. We can build the future that we want to see, one that aligns with 21st century values.

 Countries like France are moving to ban domestic short-haul flights, making passengers endure hours-long train rides in the name of sustainability. Germany is debating something similar. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for sustainability. But I’m also for speed: that innate human drive to go faster, to do more. We don’t need to sacrifice one to get the other. Hyperloop can give us both: sustainability without sacrifice. And it couldn’t come at a better time, when every day I read a new headline about the window of opportunity closing to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

To see hyperloop come to fruition, Congress, the U.S. Department of Transportation and other federal stakeholders must create an environment that promotes its development. We have already started to see this level of federal involvement in places like the European Union, where hyperloop was included in the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy and a hyperloop standardization body has been created.

Infrastructure in the United States is no stranger to federal support, and we only have to look back in history to see the benefit. The Transcontinental Railroad and the Interstate Highway System – and their associated economic boons – came into existence thanks to forward-thinking legislation at the time. Now Congress has signaled that hyperloop could follow a similar path.

The landmark Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act makes hyperloop eligible for federal funding, including the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) competitive grant program at the Federal Railroad Administration and the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program at the Department of Energy. Allowing hyperloop projects to compete for such funding makes the infrastructure bill the most significant piece of hyperloop legislation in the world.

Investing in hyperloop today will enable a safer, faster and more environmentally friendly transportation network for tomorrow. But the benefits surpass improved connectivity. In developing the technology, we’re creating new jobs, supply chains and ecosystems, stimulating an economic bounceback that’s long overdue.

With the provisions included in the Senate-passed bill, we are one step closer to ensuring that America leads the way once again. But the House of Representatives cannot let this opportunity languish. They must move quickly to bring this bill across the finish line, so we can transform the American mobility landscape for the next century, in a way President Eisenhower could never have imagined on that fateful trip in 1919.

Josh Giegel is the CEO and co-founder of Virgin Hyperloop, an American firm developing hyperloop technology.


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