Can Hyperloop Help Improve Traffic in the Dallas Area?

Decision-makers in north Texas are convinced that the answer to the region’s future traffic jams may be new technologies such as driverless cars, Uber air taxis, high-speed rail and hyperloop tubes.

by Gordon Dickson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram / December 3, 2019
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(TNS) — North Texas leaders are convinced that technology will be the answer to many of the region’s future traffic jams.

But which technologies will emerge as true options for Dallas-Fort Worth commuters of the future? Driver-less cars? Uber air taxis? High-speed rail? Hyperloop tubes?

Because today’s leaders can’t yet predict which of these transport modes will emerge as a traffic solution, they’re making plans for all of them.

“You are living in the greatest area of ground transportation opportunity, at any time,” Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, told members of the Fort Worth Chamber during a recent mobility trends symposium.

Morris said that as North Texas approaches a population of 8 million people, the region is reaching a “tipping point” at which building more highway lanes will have to take a back seat to higher-tech transportation alternatives.

Technology in the sky, on the ground

Here are some of the leading technology-based projects currently underway in Dallas-Fort Worth:

Uber Elevate — The ride-sharing company known for reinventing the taxi industry with its smartphone technology has reached an agreement with Fort Worth’s Alliance Airport to test air taxis on the AllianceTexas grounds. Also, Uber and Fort Worth-based Bell (formerly Bell Helicopter) are teaming up with the goal of starting up air taxi service between DFW Airport and Frisco by 2023.

Stan Swaintek, Uber’s head of operations for aviation programs, told about 650 attendees last year at Tarrant County Commissioner Gary Fickes’ annual transportation summit in Hurst that test flights could begin by 2020, and commercial operation could follow by 2023.

Uber and Bell are working on how to incorporate the flying taxis into a crowded urban area.

“They have to take off vertically, be safe, be affordable (and) pass regulations,” Matt Holvey, Bell innovation manager, told attendees at the chamber symposium. “Affordability is an aggressive challenge and we have to reduce noise.”

Hyperloop — It’s a concept not yet in use today but being studied aggressively worldwide. Hyperloop involves construction of a large vacuum tube (sort of like the pneumatic tubes often seen at bank drive-through windows, but big enough for humans to get inside). Passengers sit in a pod vehicle, which — because of the lack of air resistance — then can zip through the pneumatic tube at speeds of 600 mph or more.

North Texas officials are proposing that one of the companies pursuing Hyperloop technology, Virgin Hyperloop One, build a test track from Dallas to Arlington, DFW Airport and Fort Worth — and regional leaders support building Hyperloop tracks from Fort Worth to Laredo as well. Virgin Hyperloop One aims to build its test track — known as a Hyperloop Certification Center — by 2025.

A Hyperloop test track could become part of a region-wide network of tubular transportation, Morris has said.

High Speed Rail — Texas Central Railway, also known as Texas Central Partners LLC, formed in 2013 to build a high-speed rail line from Dallas to Houston. The railway would use rolling stock similar to that of the Central Japan Railway, and a one-way trip would take about 90 minutes, a fraction of what it takes to drive or fly (including time spent in security, etc.) between Texas’ two cities.

Some south Texans oppose the project, saying they don’t want rail right-of-way cutting across private property. Supporters hope to get a record of decision from the federal government by 2020 so wide-scale construction can begin.

Construction could start next year and take about six years to complete, said Travis Kelly, Texas Central vice president. He added that, if a Dallas-Arlington-Fort Worth extension were added to Texas Central Railway, it could be built much quicker than the original route.

What we can afford

In Texas, transportation funding is always a challenge.

The state hasn’t been able to build roads enough to keep up with growth — mainly because of limited funding available from traditional government sources such as gas taxes and vehicle registration fees. That dollar shortage has prompted Fort Worth and many other cities to reluctantly accept an expansion of the region’s toll road system, which uses government-issued bond debt to raise money for road work, then repays the bonds by charging toll road users as they go.

And transit funding is even more limited. Although the federal government makes huge grants available for public transportation expenses — for example, the purchase of new buses — day-to-day operational costs are usually paid by local transit agencies who rely upon sales tax revenue that in most cases can’t be raised beyond its current limits because of state restrictions.

But embracing technology and encouraging the private sector to experiment with creative transportation options could bring in vast amounts of private sector venture capital not currently being spent in the region, several officials said.

Taking the initiative and promoting transportation technology “will attract a VC (venture capital) culture” in Dallas-Fort Worth, said Russell Laughlin, executive vice president of Hillwood, a company that created Alliance Airport and recently reached an agreement with Uber Elevate to test pilot-less air taxis on the grounds.

“This is our opportunity to get them here,” Laughlin said, speaking of the venture capitalists. “They’re walking through the community and looking for opportunities.”

Oscar Trevino, the North Richland Hills mayor who has been active in transportation issues for nearly 20 years, said emerging transportation technology will be “the second great transportation revolution” behind the advent of the automobile a century ago.

“We’ll stand together successfully to meet these challenges in the future,” Trevino said, “and lead our state and nation in making this area the transportation innovation destination of the world.”

©2019 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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