Maryland has given transportation pioneer Elon Musk permission to dig tunnels for the high-speed, underground transit system known as a hyperloop that Musk wants to build between New York and Washington.
Representatives of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday the state has issued a conditional utility permit to let Musk's tunneling firm, the Boring Co., dig a 10.3-mile tunnel beneath the state-owned portion of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, between the Baltimore city line and state Highway 175 in Hanover.
It would be the first portion of the underground system that Musk says could eventually ferry passengers from Washington to New York, with stops in Baltimore and Philadelphia, in just 29 minutes. Maryland's approval is the first step of many needed to complete the multibillion-dollar project.
Hogan toured a site in Hanover that aides said could become an entry point for the hyperloop. The state does not plan to contribute to the cost of the project, aides said.
Hogan said on Facebook he was "incredibly excited" to support the project proposed by Musk, founder of the electric car company Tesla and the rocket firm SpaceX.
"This thing is real. It's exciting to see," Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said. "The word 'transformational' may be overused, but this is a technology that leapfrogs any technology that is out there today. And it's going to be here."
The Boring Co. thanked officials for their support and declined to comment further.
At the time, leaders of major cities along the route said they had not granted permission of any kind. But Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said she was excited to hear more.
Hogan announced his support for the project on Thursday. He posted photos of himself, Rahn, Boring Co. executives and Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh touring the fenced-off site in Hanover where the tunneling is expected to begin.
Administration officials said they will treat the hyperloop like a utility, and permitted it in the same way the state allows electric companies to burrow beneath public rights-of-way.
"We have all sorts of utilities beneath our roadways," Rahn said. "In essence, this didn't need anything more than a utility permit."
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the "vast majority" of the lines in the project will run under existing state highways.
It was not immediately clear Thursday what environmental review or other permitting procedures must be completed before the company breaks ground.
"It will be done in an environmentally sound and safe fashion, as are all state highway administration projects in Maryland," Mayer said.
More than two-thirds of the 35-mile Baltimore Washington Parkway is owned by the federal government, which as of Thursday had not publicly granted permission for the hyperloop system.
The Boring Co. aims to reduce traffic congestion by creating a low-cost, efficient system of tunnels. The company has developed tunneling machines it says will drill quickly through soft soils at a fraction of the cost of traditional tunneling.
The hyperloop technology uses electric motors and magnets to transport train cars through a low-pressure tube.
Rahn, the transportation secretary, said the Boring Co. will start with two 35-mile tubes between Baltimore and Washington.
Rahn said the company hopes to assemble its drilling machines at the Hanover site.