Whether you believe we should Make America Great Again, or simply Keep America Awesome, I think all Americans can agree on a few basic principles:
- We want our quality of life to get better over time,
- We are a leader, not a follower; and
- Paying extra for guacamole is always worth it
Whichever part of the U.S. you’re currently in, it’s easy to feel like our country’s grasp on these ideals has been slipping. We have failing dams, toxic water, airports belonging in a ‘third world country’, and collapsing bridges. The European Union now has a larger economy than us, and China is leading the world in clean tech. Hard-working Americans often struggle to find jobs, and last year’s election exposed a rift in this country that will take years to heal.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave our infrastructure a D+ in its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, advising that deficiencies will have a “cascading impact” on employment, incomes and international competitiveness. The ASCE estimates that the average U.S. family will lose $3,400 a year from 2016 to 2035 because of bad infrastructure. Surface transportation is the sector with the largest gap, with more than 53% of required spending remaining unfunded to 2025. Congested roads alone cost US drivers $160 billion in wasted fuel and time in 2014. Traffic fatalities increased 7% from 2014 to 2015, with 35,092 people dying on America’s roads.
Americans are ready for solutions--within years, not decades. One of the rare things the majorities within both parties agree on is the need to ramp up infrastructure spending. In just a few months, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will unveil a 10-year, $1 trillion infrastructure plan. The administration’s plan is almost certainly going to be a mixture of public and private investment. That’s a good thing, as private capital often has the benefit of holding a project’s feet to the fire by demanding a decent return. The same accountability should apply to public funding. Taxpayers should only pay for something if they get value from it.
We have some ideas. This week we held our Vision For America launch event in Washington, D.C., to showcase the U.S. teams in the semifinalist round of the Hyperloop One Global Challenge. We kicked off the Global Challenge a year ago to solicit proposals for the world’s most promising Hyperloop corridors. America delivered, producing more Global Challenge semifinalists than any other country in the world. The eleven U.S. teams represent routes that would connect 35 metro areas and 83 million Americans: Las Vegas to Reno in 42 minutes (compared to 7 hours by car or 1 hour 15 minutes by plane). Chicago to Columbus in 29 minutes (half the time of a plane journey, and that doesn't even include the airport hassles). Denver to Boulder in 5 minutes (compared to a 90 minute drive).
The teams, hailing from Nevada, Florida, California, Texas, Colorado, New England, Missouri, the Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest, submitted excellent proposals with data-rich economic cases for Hyperloop. Several of them come with the support of governors, mayors, Congressional representatives, and regional planning commissions. The Nevada and one of the Colorado proposals are officially sponsored by their state Department of Transportation. The DOTs of Florida and Texas are a partner to their Challenge proposal. Our finalists understood that, unlike other start-ups, we need to ask for permission to change the country.
The work that went into developing these proposals underscores Americans’ desires for more autonomy and greater economic freedom. The U.S. doesn’t lack for talent or innovation—its biggest problems are driven by imbalances. People are being priced out of the cities in which they want to live. Employers struggle to find great talent from nearby labor pools. Road congestion is a tax on everyone’s time, respiratory health and sanity. By offering fast, clean and efficient transportation that collapses distances that once seemed daunting, Hyperloop can restore some balance to the economy.
Close to two-thirds of Boulder County residents have been priced out of home ownership. A Hyperloop would enable breadwinners to build a career in Boulder’s thriving tech hubs while commuting from Greeley, where median home prices are 60% lower. A commuter in Dallas could live close to her aging parents in San Antonio without having to give up her job.
With a Hyperloop network extending out of the Seattle area, as proposed by one of the Global Challenge teams, employers such as Boeing, Amazon or Microsoft could access ten times the labor pool, reaching as far afield as Portland, Boise, and the San Francisco Bay area. Hyperloop would also allow Boeing to move new manufacturing facilities inland to a place such as southern Idaho, dropping its land cost by more than 50%. Shipping and logistics would get far more nimble and reliable with Hyperloop-powered on-demand freight networks. The Hyperloop Texas Global Challenge team was inspired by the ability to help a small business owner restock her store within 2 hours, allowing her to fully capitalize on the crush of visitors to the yearly SXSW festival without maxing out her credit line buying up extra stock in advance.
The Hyperloop is real, and it’s fast becoming an American reality. This week we finalized tube installation on our 500 meter-long DevLoop, located at our site in the desert outside of Las Vegas. DevLoop is the world’s first full-system Hyperloop test track, and is our outdoor lab for validating our proprietary levitation, propulsion, vacuum and control technologies. In the coming months, we will run the first pod through it, proving the core set of system components work together. Then we’ll look to build proof of operations centers in locations around the world to demonstrate the system is reliable and safe, and scale up from there. Success will require working closely with partners in government and transportation agencies to obtain all the certifications and regulatory approvals, as well as bottoms-up efforts with community leaders and advocates.
America has shown the ability to dream and act boldly before—the establishment of the Interstate Highway System in 1956, the enactment of airline deregulation in 1978 and interstate trucking in 1980 were all integral to defining our current logistical roadmap. The Interstate Highway System was widely considered one of Eisenhower’s biggest accomplishments, generating a 28% return on investment between the 1950s and 1990. It’s the backbone of commerce in this country, moving passengers and goods constantly.
When we’re successful as a country, it’s because the public and political leaders are energized to solve a problem. Greatness is a measure of the problems we choose to solve, as President Kennedy famously invoked in his 1962 speech:
“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? Why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”
The country needs a new network. One that’s smarter, faster and cleaner. One that will help businesses react faster to shifts in demand and unlock more productivity and growth. Let’s build a network that’s owned by Americans and made by an American company. One that’s an example for the rest of the world to follow. All we ask is to be part of the solution.