WASHINGTON — Today, Senators Cardin and Van Hollen, along with Congressmen Cummings, Sarbanes, and Brown, all Members of the Maryland congressional Delegation, and District of Columbia Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, sent a letter to Governor Larry Hogan requesting detailed information about the State’s regulation of the proposed Hyperloop Project, including the regulatory standards that will apply to the project as well as the environmental and other reviews that will be required before the project is permitted to proceed.
“While the Hyperloop is an exciting project that has the potential to transform transportation along the entire U.S. East Coast, it is also a project that would utilize a wholly new technology and could have significant impacts on our constituents,” the Members wrote. “As we assess the project and the numerous competing plans for the Baltimore-Washington corridor, we seek additional information that will enable us to understand how the proposed Hyperloop would be regulated, as well as the opportunities our constituents will have to provide comments and feedback on the project.”
Noting the lack of readily available information on the project, the Members posed 15 questions about the State’s involvement in the project, including questions about why a project that describes itself as a “a high-speed underground public transportation system” was given a utility permit, whether tunneling for the project would trigger reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, and how the project would be regulated if it began carrying fare-paying passengers. The Members requested answers to their questions by April 20.
“We appreciate that we are asking for a lot of information,” wrote the Members. “However, we believe that this information is essential to enabling us to understand how the State will ensure that adequate safeguards will be in place during all planning and construction phases of the Hyperloop, that all required environmental reviews will be completed, and that our constituents will have the opportunity to provide their opinions and ask their questions about this major project.”
The full text of the letter can be found below and here.
The text of the letter:
March 28, 2018
The Honorable Larry Hogan
State of Maryland
100 State Circle
Annapolis, MD 21401
Dear Governor Hogan:
We are writing to request detailed information about the proposed Hyperloop project. While the Hyperloop is an exciting project that has the potential to transform transportation along the entire U.S. East Coast, it is also a project that would utilize a wholly new technology and could have significant impacts on our constituents. As we assess the project and the numerous competing plans for the Baltimore-Washington corridor, we seek additional information that will enable us to understand how the proposed Hyperloop would be regulated, as well as the opportunities our constituents will have to provide comments and feedback on the project.
According to the description provided on the Boring Company’s website, the Hyperloop would be “a high-speed underground public transportation system.” The Boring Company’s website shows a projected route for the “parallel, twin underground tunnels” that would carry the Hyperloop “for approximately 35 miles from downtown DC to downtown Baltimore, beneath New York Avenue and then the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.”
The Baltimore-Washington Parkway (BW Parkway) “is a 29-mile route” between Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, DC. Ownership and management of the road “is divided between the NPS [National Park Service] and the Maryland SHA [State Highway Administration].” According to a feasibility study published in 2012, “Maryland SHA owns and operates the northern 10-mile section between I-695 and MD 175” while “NPS owns and operates the southern 19-mile section between MD 175 and New York Avenue/U.S. Route 50 and the boundary with the District of Columbia.”
Despite the fact that the Hyperloop project identifies itself as a public transportation system, last October, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) reportedly gave “conditional approval to the construction of a tunnel from Baltimore to Washington” for the project by issuing a utility permit. Your spokesman, Doug Mayer, is quoted as providing the following information about the conditional approval:
“It’s called a utility permit. That’s all they need to do the digging . . . . It’s a private company, privately financed. The costs to the state will be extremely limited, if anything at all. The state has been working with them for multiple months on the permit process.”
In a letter to State Senator Ed DeGrange, Maryland’s Assistant Attorney General David Stamper reportedly called into question the claim that all that is required to dig the tunnel through which the Hyperloop would travel is a utility permit. Mr. Stamper wrote that Hyperloop “is not a utility under federal standards or SHA’s federally-approved utility accommodation policies.” He opined: “I do not believe SHA can authorize the construction of the proposed ‘transportation tunnels’ within the BW Parkway right-of-way by issuing a utility permit.” Mr. Stamper also “pointed out that any proposal to grant a utility easement through state-owned property ‘must undergo a review and comment process . . . and an easement agreement must be presented to and approved by the Board of Public Works.’”
The claim that Hyperloop is a utility also appears to be called into question by an event planned by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) entitled “Is hyperloop the future of transportation?” in which MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn will be participating. The webpage announcing this event characterizes the Hyperloop as “a new form of high-speed tube transportation.” Secretary Rahn is scheduled to give the keynote address at the event and to participate in a discussion of the Hyperloop project.
Given the lack of publically available information – and the apparent readiness of Secretary Rahn to address the “technology, security, and policy questions associated with the hyperloop” at a public forum next month – we would like to receive by April 20 answers to the following questions:
• The Hyperloop’s creators have characterized the system as “a high-speed underground public transportation system.” Why was a system that characterizes itself as a “public transportation system” given a utility permit by the State of Maryland?
• What reviews, including environmental reviews, were conducted before the State issued a utility permit to the Hyperloop? Were any public comments solicited or received during the course of those reviews?
• In light of the Attorney General’s opinion that the Hyperloop cannot be regulated as a utility, will Maryland subject the Hyperloop to any regulatory process other than that imposed on utilities? If so, to what regulatory process will the Hyperloop be subjected?
• Are there any permits other than those imposed on utilities that the Hyperloop has sought from the State of Maryland? If so, what permits has it sought, what entities are considering the requests, and in what stage of the regulatory process is each request at the present time?
• If the Hyperloop began carrying fare-paying passengers, would it still be regulated as a utility? Which Maryland entity would then regulate the project?
• If the Hyperloop began carrying fare-paying passengers, would it be classified as a railroad or a public transit entity? Would it be subject to regulation by the Federal Railroad Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, or any other Federal entity?
• Has Maryland had any contact with the Federal entities that would regulate either the construction or operation of the Hyperloop? If so, with which entities has the State had contact and is the State working with any of these entities to identify the appropriate regulatory scheme for the Hyperloop?
• Given that the projected right-of-way for the Hyperloop would be under the BW Parkway, which includes segments owned and managed by both the State of Maryland and the National Park Service, what discussions has Maryland had with the National Park Service regarding the reviews and permits that the project must obtain?
• What environmental laws apply to the project and which environmental reviews are required under Maryland State law and Federal law? Have the sponsors of the Hyperloop submitted any environmental reviews or documentation to the State?
• Has MDOT, or any other public agency (State or Federal), officially determined that digging the tunnels proposed for the Hyperloop does not constitute a major Federal action that would trigger the requirements of National Environmental Policy Act?
• Has MDOT determined whether the tunnels, as proposed to be dug, are within the I-295 right-of-way? If so, does MDOT assume liability for the project within its right-of-way?
• What engineering analyses has MDOT conducted (or contracted) to ensure that any tunnel digging does not compromise the roadway? What protections are in place for the State, should the digging result in any problems for the road?
• Has MDOT expended any Federal funds on I-295? If so, please provide the total amount of federal expenditures for each of the last 10 years.
• How are Maryland authorities ensuring effective regulatory, environmental, and engineering coordination between the Hyperloop, the proposed Maglev and the proposed toll lanes on 295?
• Given the positive statements made by you and representatives of MDOT about the proposed Maglev, it seems that you support both projects. Can you explain how these projects will operate simultaneously especially in terms of right-of-way usage and customer base?
We appreciate that we are asking for a lot of information. However, we believe that this information is essential to enabling us to understand how the State will ensure that adequate safeguards will be in place during all planning and construction phases of the Hyperloop, that all required environmental reviews will be completed, and that our constituents will have the opportunity to provide their opinions and ask their questions about this major project.
Thank you for your consideration of these requests.
Benjamin L. Cardin Chris Van Hollen
U.S. Senator U.S. Senator
Elijah E. Cummings Eleanor Holmes Norton
Member of Congress Member of Congress
John P. Sarbanes Anthony G. Brown
Member of Congress Member of Congress