Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk can claim a perhaps unparalleled string of visionary company creations -- PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla, The Boring Company.
The Boring Company?
"We're trying to dig a hole under LA," Musk explained during a recent TED Talk interview.
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After months of social media musing on tunneling to escape traffic congestion in metropolitan Los Angeles, Musk is moving ahead with test boring in a Hawthorne parking lot across Crenshaw Boulevard from SpaceX.
It appears to be a step toward what Musk foresees as a "3D network of tunnels to alleviate congestion." What Musk calls "electric sleds" would carry cars piggyback through the tunnels at speeds up to 125 mph.
Going from Westwood to LAX would take six minutes or less, Musk predicted.
Cars could access and depart the tunnels through roadside auto elevators, each of which Musk said would require the room of only two parking spaces. The scenario is depicted in an animation video posted on The Boring Company's website.
Musk contends that unlike surface roadways, underground you need never run out of room to add lanes, because you can simply go down another level.
But transportation engineers have doubts about the feasibility of Musk's tunnel vision, and apart from benefiting the tunnel users, how much it would reduce traffic and improve transit overall.
"How such a narrow system could contribute to that is not clear to me," said Jim Moore, director of the USC Viterbi Transportation Engineering Program. Be that as it may, Moore said he considers Musk a "bona fide genius," and applauded his investing in researching such a novel approach.
Musk believes autonomous driving technology will enable car travel to be more efficient, and that cars -- not public transit -- will continue to carry a large percentage of ground travelers.
A major obstacle to underground travel is the cost of boring tunnels. The cost of new underground transit lines runs into the billions of dollars.
Musk said the Boring Company is focusing on ways to improve technology and efficiency enough to reduce cost by at least tenfold.
An inquiry to The Boring Company for detail on what is being done at the Crenshaw site elicited a response from sister company SpaceX--but no comments on the record. It appears the current work east of Crenshaw is a separate project from the proposed--but yet to be started--pedestrian tunnel which the city of Hawthorned has approved to be bored beneath Crenshaw Blvd.
Musk acknowledged improvement in boring technology may have crossover benefit for another vision of his for using tunnels to speed travel: Hyperloops, in which passengers would be transported in pods at near supersonic speeds through tubes with reduced air pressure. Musk sees this as a step beyond high speed rail, such as exists in Japan and the state of California currently is constructing.
The test Hyperloop that SpaceX built in Hawthorne alongside Jack Northrop Boulevard is above ground. But future Hyperloops for congested urban areas, such as the Washington-New York corridor, would best be placed underground, Musk said during the April TED talk recorded in Vancouver, Canada.
Musk spoke with enthusiasm for the Boring Project, but during the TED talk put it in context -- at this point, it is receiving only 2 to 3 percent of his time.