SPRINGFIELD — Elijah Haahr really wants a hyperloop in Missouri.
He was one of the first state officials outside of Nevada to visit Virgin Hyperloop One’s test track there.
When a study indicated one could be built along Interstate 70 between Kansas City and St. Louis for $10 billion or less, he moved quickly to create a task force.
Just a few months after that group recommended the state try to partner with Virgin on another, bigger test track in either Kansas City or St. Louis, Haahr made the pitch to his hometown.
Speaking at Biz 417's Think Summit here Friday, the Missouri House speaker said it just made sense to build a tube sending people across the state in a half-hour in the state that birthed Route 66 and the world’s first steel arch bridge, assuming the technology works as promised.
“Missouri has kind of always been on the forefront of transportation,” Haahr, R-Springfield, said. “That’s kind of been one of the things we’ve prided ourselves on.”
He noted that kind of innovation has slowed in the country since the Interstate Highway System was built, but he said that doesn’t have to be permanent — and could turn around in the Show-Me State.
“Because of Missouri’s background, (the hyperloop) seems like something we should again be excited about and try to be on the forefront of,” Haahr said.
As Gary Whitaker, 417 Magazine’s publisher, asked the questions, Haahr laid out the rest of the case to a crowd in the Springfield Art Museum’s auditorium.
Most of it rested on the idea that partnering on a test track in Kansas City or St. Louis, which could cost an estimated $300 million-$500 million, could be a huge gain for the state economy.
For one thing, he said, a technology marvel in the making would be a magnet for talented young people excited by the next big thing.
“Having the test track makes us sort of the focal point for design,” he said. “It puts us back in the forefront of being a tech-heavy place that millennials want to come to, but a lot of students want to come to as well.”
When Whitaker asked how that would help southwest Missouri, several hours away, Haahr pointed out Virgin would be shopping at companies like stainless steel manufacturer Paul Mueller to build it.
“All of the types of industry that we have in Springfield would be part of what they'd be utilizing to build this track across the state,” Haahr said.
The House speaker added that if Kansas City or St. Louis get a test track, Missouri would immediately become a front-runner for the first full-scale project that could quickly “spiderweb” down to southwest Missouri.
If the test track goes to, say, North Carolina, Haahr said, the technology would take decades to get here and Missouri would be left out.
Virgin Hyperloop One is still weighing proposals from Kansas City, St. Louis and other cities across the country, but Haahr said he’s confident in Missouri’s pitch.
He noted a bill sponsored by Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, to authorize state hyperloop partnership would also bolster the state’s case by eliminating a key regulatory issue. The legislation was one of the first bills passed out of committee this year.
Haahr said he expects Virgin to announce finalists for its test track in the next two months and reveal its top choice sometime this summer.
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. He has the privilege of covering state government, Missouri's congressional delegation and the 2020 elections in his home state. He can be reached at 417-403-8096 and email@example.com.