A five-minute maglev trip between downtown Baltimore and BWI Marshall Airport could give the city a major boost in the competition for Amazon's second North American headquarters, a Northeast Maglev official said Wednesday.
It's a new pitch for the proposed $10 billion-12 billion high-speed rail project, which promises to shorten the trip between Baltimore and Washington to 15 minutes — and, eventually, connect D.C. and New York in an hour.
"We are included in part of the effort to bring Amazon to the city, both all the workers and all the benefits that that entails," said Jeff Hirschberg, vice chairman of The Northeast Maglev. "There isn't [another] city in the United States ... that can claim that they can get from their city center to their major airport in five minutes. That would be an extraordinary benefit to the city of Baltimore and to this effort."
Hirschberg gave a brief update to area business leaders on the project during remarks Wednesday morning at the Greater Baltimore Committee's Transportation Summit at the Marriott Inner Harbor. Colin Tooze, director of public affairs at Uber, and Robert Grant, senior director of public policy for North America at Lyft, also presented at the event.
The maglev train proposal, which gained Gov. Larry Hogan's support in 2015 after he rode one in Japan, is undergoing a federally funded $27.8 million environmental review.
That review is expected to be completed in summer 2019, instead of February 2019 as estimated earlier, Hirschberg said.
The project, which so far has raised $65 million in private capital, Hirschberg said, is expected to be funded with federal and private money, without state aid.
The Central Japan Railway Company has offered to share the costs and bring its magnetic levitation technology, which cost $6 billion to develop, to the United States without charging a licensing fee, he said.
Six track alignments are being considered in the environmental impact study, and it likely would be built about 70 percent underground, Hirschberg said. Any part that isn't tunneled would run above ground on a viaduct, he said.
Hirschberg stressed that the maglev project would bring hundreds of thousands of jobs and relieve the congestion in the crowded Northeast Corridor.
"This technology is ready for deployment in the United States now," he said.
The Uber and Lyft representatives took a similar tack, describing the congestion and vast amount of land devoted to parking and other car infrastructure — and the potential sea change offered by ride-sharing and self-driving cars.
Ride-sharing peaks after bars close, said Uber's Tooze. He cited a 22 percent decrease in DUI-related road deaths in Virginia, which officials there attributed directly to ride-sharing.
The anticipated emergence of shared, self-driving cars in coming years has the potential to reduce congestion by 90 percent, Tooze said.
"There's an alternate to a world that looks like a parking lot and moves like a traffic jam," he said. "Imagine the possibilities when these changing attitudes take hold on a global scale."
Baltimoreans take hundreds of thousands of Lyft rides each month, and the company has seen a 130 percent growth in rides in the city in the last year, Grant said.
The company foresees a fully autonomous fleet providing most Lyft rides within five years. A subscription model likely will replace ride-by-ride payments for regular riders. If the effort succeeds, private car ownership "will all but end" by 2025, Grant said.
"We can work with the folks in this room and legislative leaders and policy makers to make Baltimore a better place for its residents," he said.
Jenny Kessler Klump, who owns the marketing firm Meraki Creative Solutions and previously worked on a streetcar project in Cincinnati, asked the panelists how they would connect their efforts to existing transit.
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They said they hope to complement, not compete with, current transportation options.
Still, she questioned Hogan's decision to pull the plug on the $2.9 billion Red Line light rail project while supporting the much more expensive high-speed maglev.
"To put all of our eggs in this new technology basket and ignore our existing system that needs the same amount of support is a misguided use of effort and resources," Klump said afterward. "If you don't have a way to get to where you need to go in Baltimore, what's the point in getting there in 15 minutes?"
Want to know more about the maglev study?
Northeast Maglev is hosting five upcoming public meetings on the proposal: Saturday at 10 a.m. at Bowie State University; Monday at 5 p.m. at Arundel High School; Oct. 18 at 5 p.m. at Catholic University in Washington; Oct. 24 at 5 p.m. at Laurel High School; and Oct. 25 at Digital Harbor High School in Baltimore.