Lawmakers in Michigan are considering plans to build a high-speed, hydrogen-powered maglev rail line that would carry people between Detroit and Lansing using specially built cars, buses, and trucks.
The project would be funded entirely by the private sector, and according to the company that designed it, provide a variety of economic and environmental benefits to the state.
Supports of the program say it's a chance for Michigan to take a leadership role in an emerging industry, while critics argue it is an expensive distraction.
Known as the Interstate Traveler Hydrogen Super Highway, the program is nothing if not ambitious. Stainless steel tracks would run alongside and above the stretch of Interstate 96 that connects Detroit and Lansing, accommodating a wide range of vehicles built by the Big Three and capable of traveling up to 200 mph. Passengers would board and alight from traveler stations built at each freeway interchange, and rail-mounted solar cells would fuel hydrogen batteries that power the system's magnetic field.
Interstate Traveler Company LLC, the company that designed the system, says the Superhighway will not only move people across the state fast, but will spin off enough surplus energy to power municipal sewer and water, communication, and security systems, and its tracks can be used to house conduit clusters of utility lines and fiber optic cables.
Making this system a reality won't come cheap. The company estimates construction costs of $15 million per mile, but says private investors will put up the entire $2 billion required for the Detroit-Lansing line. That seems to have Michigan lawmakers chomping at the bit.
"This innovative rail system has tremendous potential for Michigan residents, and could be a major catalyst to strengthen our economy and create jobs," said Rep. Bill Rogers, who leads the task force studying the project. "Just as Michigan was the birthplace of the world's first mile of concrete roadway, our state could usher in a new era of transportation with just as much impact as the automobile."
Not so fast, say detractors, who question the wisdom of launching an unproven program in the current economic environment. The Conservative Media, a blog that covers Michigan politics, points out that the maglev project is being discussed at the same time other state public transportation projects are being starved of investment, and TreeHugger wonders if Michigan might not be better off with a more cost-effective, easier to deploy high speed iron wheel line.
But Interstate Traveler says that its superhighway, once deployed alongside all 54,000 miles of the Eisenhower Interstate System, will do much more than solve America's transportation problems. Building a national network, the company says, will require something in the neighborhood of 750 million tons of American made steel, singlehandedly saving that industry.
Staffing the network's traveler stations and associated businesses would create 2.1 million "livable wage" jobs, and the whole enterprise would generate a carbon offset value that exceeds $650 million.
Justin Sutton, the head of Interstate Traveler, says work on the Detroit-Lansing line could begin as early as mid-2010. While we like his vision, we're betting it's going to take longer than that.