Few people have managed to avoid hearing the name Elon Musk. The South African-born innovator is renowned for his business acumen, and skills in engineering, investing and inventing. His many accomplishments include:
- SpaceX: He is CEO and CTO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., a California-based aerospace manufacturer, and space transport service. The company aims to facilitate space transportation at a reduced cost and to help enable the colonization of Mars.
- Tesla Inc: He is a co-founder, investor, CEO, and product architect of this company which manufactures electric cars, solar panels, and energy storage.
- OpenAI: He is co-chairman of this non-profit AI research and development company.
- Neuralink: He is founder and CEO of this U.S. neurotechnology company, which aims to develop implantable brain-computer interfaces.
- The Boring Company: He is the founder of this infrastructure and tunnel construction company.
The Boring Company Takes Shape
Musk was inspired to create the Boring Company in 2016 based on his experience of difficulty with traffic in Los Angeles. He has also criticized the existing 2-D transportation network model. His proposed solution to these problems is to replace the current model with a more dynamic 3-D model. What this means is either the production of flying cars or the addition of tunnels. While flying cars may be part of a not-too-distant future, tunnels have a number of advantages. The main ones being that they are out of sight, waterproof, and don’t have the same risk of falling on people’s heads as flying cars do.
Why Tunnels are the Solution to Traffic Problems
According to Musk, to eradicate today’s common traffic problems, transportation corridors need to expand into a third dimension. As going up (in the case of flying cars) is not a viable option at this point, it makes sense to go down and build tunnels. This solution provides several benefits:
- Versatility: Because there is no practical limit to the number of layers of tunnels you can build, multiple levels of traffic can be built.
- Safety: Tunnels are waterproof and can be built to rigid standards of safety and durability.
- Environmentally friendly: The construction and operation of underground traffic tunnels are out of sight and cannot be heard by anyone on the surface.
- Community friendly: Underground traffic tunnels do not intersect and divide communities with barriers and lanes.
Musk explains that this type of traffic system has not been developed before largely because of the expense involved. Some projects, he explains, could cost as must as $1 billion for every mile. In order to make tunneling costs feasible, Musk intends to reduce them by a factor greater than 10.
Cutting the Cost of Tunneling
On his Boring Co. website, Musk has outlined a number of possible ways to cut the cost of building underground traffic tunnels. They include:
- Reducing the diameter of the tunnels from the standard 28 feet to fewer than 14 feet
- Increasing the speed of the tunnel boring machine.
- Figure a means to tunnel continuously
Taking the Boring Co. Under Los Angeles
One of Musk’s latest plans is to implement the Boring Company’s traffic tunnel plans in Los Angeles, to speed up commutes and make traveling less stressful and more pleasant. With this in mind, Musk has released a design for a Los Angeles Tunnel Alignment. The proposed project has two phases.
Phase One: The Boring Co. has already filed an excavation permit application for the initial proof-of-concept tunnel. The 6.5-mile tunnel would pass through Los Angeles and Culver City. Musk proposes that the tunnel is to be used to test systems and safety, verify construction logistics, operating procedure, and line-switching demos. During this phase, the tunnel will not yet be used beyond testing. Once safety standards are met, and the tunnel is considered safe by the Boring Co. as well as the City and County governments, plans for public transportation will then be considered.
Phase Two: Assuming Phase One is successful; Phase Two is designed to expand the initial tunnel. As of right now, however, Phase Two is only in the concept stage. It will be developed in cooperation with the county and city of Los Angeles and with input from members of the local community.
If and when the tunnels are ready for public transport, they will be fitted with hyperloops. This is a high-speed pod system that will transport vehicles or passengers at a speed of over 300 km per hour, to keep the system running seamlessly.
The Practicalities of Tunneling
One question that Musk gets asked a lot about his tunneling project is what happens with all the dirt that is removed in the process. He has obviously given this some thought. This aspect makes typical tunneling projects very costly because the excavated dirt is usually transported offsite to designated disposal locations. As well as being expensive, this process is noisy, time-consuming and can be hazardous to the environment. For some time now, Musk and his team have been investigating technologies which will recycle the excavated earth into bricks that can be used to construct new buildings or structures. These bricks could even be used to build some of the tunnel lining; a more viable and environmentally solution than concrete.
Are Underground Traffic Tunnels Safe?
The Golden State is well-known for its propensity for earthquakes, so is it really a good idea to build underground tunnels there? Elon Musk says yes. In fact, when they are designed and built properly, tunnels are one of the safest places to be in an earthquake for several reasons. For example: in contrast to surface structures, they move uniformly with the ground, and the contents of the tunnel are protected from falling debris.
In addition to going underground in LA, Musk and his team are also working with officials on a DC-to-Baltimore tunnel that will eventually connect to New York. The Boring Co. is making a bid to build and operate a hyperloop to connect Chicago O’Hare Airport to downtown as well. The Boring Company and all of its projects are privately funded.