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Back in 2017, the possibility of high-speed hyperloop transportation set imaginations ablaze on the Front Range. What if, despite congestion on I-70, we could travel from Denver to Vail in less than 10 minutes? What if the daily commute from Denver to Boulder could be done in five minutes? What if people could live in Pueblo, work in Fort Collins, and access Denver International Airport on a moment’s notice, using technology that would move us around at 600 mph?
These ambitions were no doubt futuristic and intangible, but 16 months ago, the promise of hyperloop was nearing reality in the Centennial State. In October 2017, Virgin Hyperloop One, a Los Angeles-based company developing an advanced, tube-like system, selected Colorado as one of 10 global sites where its new mode of transportation could take hold. A month later, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) announced a partnership with another company, Arrivo, which planned to build a test track along E-470 and connect every part of metro Denver in less than 20 minutes.
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Since then, there have been few updates regarding hyperloop technology in Colorado. Until last week, when Westword reported that Arrivo has folded and its plans to operate in Colorado are dead. Representatives from Arrivo could not be reached for comment, but Amy Ford, chief of advanced mobility for CDOT, confirmed that Arrivo is no longer in operation, and the company’s Colorado partnership has indeed dissolved. “That’s obviously not going to happen,” Ford says of the E-470 project. “They closed their doors without building the test track.”
However, just because Arrivo shuttered doesn’t mean other hyperloop technologies in Colorado will do the same, according to Ford. In fact, CDOT is wrapping up a rapid-speed travel study (it should be released within the next month) that outlines various hyperloop-like transportation systems that could impact the Front Range over the next several years. In order to develop this study, Ford says, the state has worked closely with Hyperloop One, which is finishing its own feasibility analysis about its technology on the Front Range. Hyperloop One did not respond to a request for comment, but Ford expects its analysis to be completed and released this spring.
According to an early draft of CDOT’s study, Hyperloop One is among at least four companies on the state’s radar. The state has looked at technology from the Boring Company—which was founded by Elon Musk in 2016 and specializes in building infrastructure and tunnels—that would transport “autonomous electric skates” underground at speeds up to 150 mph. At this time, CDOT does not have plans to implement this technology. The state also has considered using SkyTran, a California-based company developing a suspended “ultra-narrow gauge rail network” with ultra-light pod vehicles that would operate above city streets. Similarly, the CDOT report references a system being developed by TransitX , which utilizes solar power to move small elevated pods above traffic.
However, with each of these technologies, Ford says, there remain three key obstacles: The tech has to mature, regulations have to be developed, and funding has to be secured. She stresses that Colorado isn’t in a place to pick up the tab for these projects, and a funding source is yet to be identified for hyperloop infrastructure.
For the time being, Ford says, the state—with strong support from Gov. Jared Polis—will continue to monitor emerging technology, even if there’s no firm timeline in place for hyperloop to become a reality. “Five years ago, we weren’t much talking about Uber and Lyft,” she says. “Three years ago, we weren’t really talking about self-driving vehicles. A year ago, we certainly weren’t talking about [electric] scooters. So as you think about the level of change, things happen rapidly and a lot of the energy and innovation right now is in the transportation sector.”