Transportation Expert on NYC-DC Hyperloop: ‘Verbal Approval Is Meaningless’

Elon has entered the chat.

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Jul 20 2017, 8:54pm

Image: Jurvetson/Flickr

Feeding into the fantasies of anyone who's ever had to trek from New York City to Washington, DC using one of the godawful slow or expensive modes of transportation available, Elon Musk tweeted a compelling and vague announcement about his plans for the Mid-Atlantic.

Musk tweeted Thursday that he received "verbal govt approval" for an underground hyperloop connecting New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC. But experts tell me this means, essentially, nothing.

We don't know which government gave him this approval—it's safe to assume that a combination of agencies would need to approve this plan—or what "verbal" approval entails. Following the tweet, the White House confirmed to Bloomberg that it had "positive conversations" with Musk about high-speed travel options. But several outlets, including Motherboard, found that at least some state government officials have no idea what he's talking about.

Of course, building both a roughly 225-mile long tunnel and a hyperloop are among the larger infrastructure projects that could possibly be undertaken and would require approval and partnership between myriad local, state, and federal governments. In any case, at least one government that would presumably have to be involved told us it did not give Musk verbal approval.

"The New York State Department of Transportation did not give verbal approval for a hyperloop," a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Transportation told me in an emailed statement. "Thanks for checking with us."

"Keep in mind that he is a brilliant marketer and provocateur"

Hyping people's hopes about high-speed travel between the biggest cities on the east coast is painfully easy. "But, big picture, verbal approval is meaningless in government," Gabe Klein, former director of the Washington, DC Department of Transportation and former commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation, told me.

"I say that with a lot of respect for Elon Musk and what he's trying to do, but keep in mind that he is a brilliant marketer and provocateur," Klein, who recently started CityFi, an urban management firm, added. "Part of what I think he's doing is getting people excited about the ideas."

Based on his experience working with the White House on transportation issues, Klein said that Musk could be talking about support from the federal government. It could range from the federal government saying it's feasible and it doesn't have a problem with the entrepreneur getting to work on it, to its support in the form of federal funding.

As for the options we have left on the East Coast: With Penn Station's Amtrak hub under perpetual waterfalls of shit and New Jersey Transit ruining baseball fans' lives, it's clear something will have to give. Whether or not it's Musk's vision is what we'll have to keep watching.

"You can see by the tweetstorm and the press it's gotten that he has succeeded no matter what he was told," Klein said.