By the end of June, the seven finalists in the Federal Railroad Administration’s Maglev Deployment Program are required to submit plans to construct maglev in their respective states.
The finalists are Georgia, Washington D.C., Nevada, Pennsylvania, California, Louisiana and Florida. Though only one state is supposed to be chosen for funding by the federal government, all of the states, except for California, requested to Congress that more than one state be selected.
"There are about 30 states that want to construct maglev," said Mark Dysart, president of the High Speed Ground Transportation Association. "They are now ahead of the federal government."
Under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21), $55 million was allotted for fiscal years 1999-2001 to transportation systems employing maglev. Federal funds totaling $950 million were authorized, but not appropriated, by TEA 21 for fiscal years 2000-2003 for the final design and construction of the most promising maglev project. The federal share of the final project’s total capital costs cannot be more than two-thirds, with the remaining portion to be covered by a non-federal funding source.
To be eligible for the maglev program, projects must meet certain criteria, including: exhibiting partnership potential, operating as a transportation system in revenue service, the ability to be undertaken through public-private partnerships and safely reaching speeds of at least 240 mph.
The states' plans, due June 30, must include an environmental analysis, a project description and supporting pre-construction planning reports. Selection of a final project is estimated to be completed by September 30, at which point it will undergo an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
A cause for concern, as stated in comments filed by the FRA, is that there is not enough time by the June deadline to determine the safety and validity of a single project. The final rule for the deployment program stipulates the possibility that more than one project may be chosen to undergo an EIS. In that case, a final project would not be selected until 2001.
As one of the seven selected projects, the Greater New Orleans Expressway Commission (GNOEC) is planning a 48-mile maglev system that would be built on existing rights-of-way and serve 3,000 people per hour. New Orleans is one of the areas requesting more than one project to be selected for further environmental analysis.
"There is not enough information [at this stage] to substantiate a comprehensive decision," said Hunter O. Wagner, general manager of the GNOEC. "There are problems on hand with the selection of one member who might not be able to fulfill the required obligations."
Though Wagner said New Orleans would not be the No. 1 choice if only one area was selected, he said he believes it has an excellent chance of developing into a strong system if given the opportunity.
The project in D.C., spanning 40 miles from Baltimore to Washington, estimates a daily ridership of 33,000 to 36,000. In the spirit of all maglev projects, it will reduce travel times, increase mobility and reduce congestion.
Though he said it is ultimately up to the FRA, Suhair Alkhatib, project manager at the Maryland Mass Transit Administration, thinks more than one area should be selected at this stage.
"For a project to go forward, it is going to need more environmental work," Alkhatib said.