Government & Politics

Missouri Hyperloop would require taking more private land than supporters say

As much as 35 percent of the proposed route for Missouri’s ultra-fast Kansas City to St. Louis Hyperloop could require land acquisition through the government’s power of eminent domain, far more than boosters of the $10-billion venture have claimed.

The Hyperloop would use magnetic levitation to carry pods with people and goods through a low-pressure tube from Kansas City to St. Louis in less than 30 minutes.

The full feasibility report, completed last fall by the Kansas City-based firm Black & Veatch, is at odds with statements by supporters of the project, including Missouri House Speaker Elijah Haahr, who said last month that among the project’s selling points was that it could use “a vast majority” of state-owned right-of-way along I-70.

Haahr made the claim in an interview with The Star, and spoke about it at a news conference announcing the formation of a “Blue Ribbon” panel to find ways to bring the idea quickly to fruition.

A summary of a feasibility report was issued by Black & Veatch last fall. The full version of the study says 34 homes or public structures could be in the way of the route and as much as 35 percent would be outside of the I-70 right of way.

The report also noted that neither terminals for entry or exit, nor maintenance areas along the route, were factored into the estimates. Each require the acquisition of additional land. The proposed Kansas City terminals were located at Truman Sports Complex and Berkley Riverfront Park.

Two Missouri lawyers and experts in state eminent domain law who reviewed the full Black & Veatch report at the request of The Star agreed that the Hyperloop would require a “significant amount” of eminent domain use before it could become reality.

“The fact that it does have somewhat of a leg-up by being able to use MoDOT right of way, that does not mean that the use of eminent domain will be unnecessary,” said Melissa Sherman, a lawyer at Spencer Fane who specializes in condemnation law.

She added that even if MoDOT owns the land, it’s unclear it would be able to legally and seamlessly use it for a Hyperloop as opposed to a highway.

“I’ve seen this time after time after time,” said Jerome Wallach of the Wallach Law Firm in St. Louis. “The takings are invariably more extensive than the predictions of the proponents of the project.”

Haahr’s support for Hyperloop contrasts sharply with his approach to another major project that would require the government to take private land for public purposes.

On Tuesday, the House tentatively approved legislation blocking the use of eminent domain for the Grain Belt Express, a transmission line that would carry wind-generated electricity east across eight Missouri counties.

The acquisition of private land for the project had been authorized by the Missouri Public Service Commission. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Pike County, would effectively kill the project. Final House approval could come later this week. Haahr supports the measure.

In an interview last week, Haahr said his opposition to Grain Belt was based on the idea of a private company (Invenergy) “choosing not to negotiate with the landowners and pay what the landowners want. They want the government to force them to be able to get that at market value, so I think that’s the concern we have with that.”

Haahr added that Hyperloop was different becauase it was “a Missouri program that would connect a Missouri city to a Missouri city — St. Louis to Kansas City with Columbia in between. Grain Belt Express basically is an out-of-state company moving out-of-state energy across our state to another state, so there’s significantly less value for Missourians.”

The public would likely be quick to support the use of eminent domain for Hyperloop, Sherman said, but, “just objectively, I don’t see the Grain Belt Express as being different. I think that the Hyperloop probably just has more cachet.”

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