Hyperloop firm to create 200 mph traffic-busting tubes in downtown Denver

Colorado drivers may be the first to escape traffic due to a new partnership between state officials and a Los Angeles-based hyperloop tech company.

USA TODAY - Colorado drivers may be the first to escape traffic due to a new partnership between state officials and a Los Angeles-based hyperloop tech company.

Arrivo founder Brogan BamBrogan joined Colorado transportation officials leaders in Denver Tuesday to announce a partnership to create a network of roadside tubes at the congested heart of the city that will whisk drivers and their cars to their destinations at speeds up to 200 mph.

The public-private players include Arrivo, the Colorado Department of Transportation and E-470 Public Highway Authority, which operates a 75-mile user-financed toll road running along the eastern perimeter of the city. The Arrivo test site will be near E-470 and groundbreaking is slated for early 2018. 

BamBrogan says Arrivo's first commercial system could be ready in 2021 depending on the predictable array of funding, regulatory and public perception hurdles.

By way of pitching the Arrivo system, Colorado DOT officials speculated that a network of tubes filled with high-speed trays to carry cars could cut a one-hour and ten minute drive from downtown to the airport down to a 9 minute Arrivo ride. A one-hour slog down the state's busy Boulder to Denver highway corridor would take 8 minutes. 

"We're the tech partner in what would be a big partnership involving lawmakers, real estate people and others, but our job is to show that we can help provide a positive ROI (return on investment)," BamBrogam told USA TODAY. "Traffic is something people are very eager to solve."

BamBrogan said the idea is to use existing highway right of ways to install above ground tubes to help commuters cheat traffic by granting them express trips in their own cars to popular destinations. 

Why not just build a train? "I have a young son, and my car is filled with everything I need for him so not taking my car often isn't a great option," he said.

Arrivo's system is notably different from the more sci-fi version of hyperloop, the name Tesla CEO Elon Musk gave to the transportation system in a white paper he wrote in 2013.

That vision, one being pursued by Arrivo rival Hyperloop One, involves above or below-ground vacuum-sealed tubes inside which magnetically levitated pods can travel at up to 700 mph.

By definition, these hyperloop systems are aimed at covering hundreds of miles in short time frames, such as turning a 6-hour Los Angeles to San Francisco trek into a 30 minute hyperloop scoot.

BamBrogan said that his new company, which took root last summer east of downtown L.A., is for the moment focused on "regional and super-regional solutions, which is typically a lower pressure environment" when it comes to logistics. 

"Denver was a natural fit, since the place is urbanzing fast and there is a need for a traffic solution," he said, adding that the company plans to hire 40 to 50 people in Denver next year as it puts between $10 and $15 million into its test track site.

Arrivo plans to open a new Engineering and Technology Center in the Denver area. "Colorado's rapidly growing population and booming economy makes for the idea location for the development of an Arrivo system," Colorado governor John Hickenlooper said in a statement.

Since Musk dream up hyperloop, the entrepreneur has launched The Boring Company in order to start drilling tunnels for his own alternate transportation system. Maryland has said it welcomes Musk's drills, although the man himself has yet to confirm the plan.

While Musk's exact transportation vision is cloudy,  The Boring Company's website features an animation that shows a Tesla-like vehicle being lowered from a curb-side parking space onto a high-speed platform and continuing on its way. 

BamBrogan spent part of his engineering career helping Musk built his rocket company SpaceX. He later joined Uber investor and Musk friend Shervin Peshivar in cofounding Hyperloop One, which he left after an acrimonious series of lawsuits. Hyperloop One is building a test track near Las Vegas, and has feasibility studies underway in Russia and the Middle East.

Hyperloop One recently announced that Colorado was among 10 finalists of a competition aimed at finding the best place to launch its debut U.S. project. That Colorado project would transport people or freight in pods at up to the speed of sound, and stretch across the entire state from north to south and west to its fabled ski resorts. 

Shailen Bhatt, the executive director of the state's Department of Transportation, predicts that any new-fangled transport system is sure to find naysayers, but no one is against solutions to get out of gridlock.

"I'm sure some people will say this is a waste of money, just put down more asphalt, but my job is to partner with interesting private companies and see what could work best to help with our problem," said Bhatt. "Our issue is a familiar one. We have infrastructure that was designed in the 1950s, built in the '60s and planned for a population of the '80s that already doubled since then."

Although Colorado's growth slowed slightly last year, the state has been among the nation's fastest growing in recent years adding around 100,000 new residents annually.Bhatt said that Arrivo will be able not only link motorists with key destinations such as the airport, city center or the region's technology hub in Boulder, but also take 80% of the tractor-trailers that travel north through Denver off Interstate-25 by putting them onto an Arrivo link that bypasses the city.

"Our philosophy is whether it's public transit, light rail, connected vehicles or a hyperloop type system, we want it all," he said. "There may be all sorts of hurdles to this, but also great possibilities."

Follow USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della Cava on Twitter.

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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