The Boring Company has finished its test tunnel, and now it’s digging into some bigger projects. Founder Elon Musk unveiled the 1.14-mile tunnel at the Hawthorne site by the SpaceX campus earlier this month, amid a flurry of media reports around his idea to send autonomous cars whizzing underground at speeds of up to 150 mph. Inverse predicts that 2019 will be the year when the firm starts construction on a real, usable public project.
It’s been a big year for the firm, which was founded at the start of 2017 in a bid to reduce Los Angeles traffic by digging underground to create more passages. Having sold 20,000 hats at the end of last year, the company moved on to selling flamethrowers, which it branded “not-a-flamethrower” in what it claimed was a bid to subvert product rules. The company completed deliveries of the first 1,000 sets in June.
We’re reporting on 19 predictions for 2019. This is #18.
On December 18, Musk unveiled a tunnel that connected to an elevator. The construction, less than 14 feet in diameter, is just big enough for a Tesla Model X fitted with guide wheels to whizz through at speed, although demonstrations only reached around 60 mph. On the other hand, the tunnel only cost around $10 million to build, lower than the approximately $1 billion per mile for other public projects.
The aim is to fit out cities with multiple tunnels to avoid the induced demand problem. Each tunnel can support 4,000 cars per hour. Public cars would also ferry pedestrians and cyclists without their own cars. Private autonomous car owners would in theory fit guide-wheels to their own non-Tesla cars to use the tunnels, but public cars will always take priority.
The firm has a number of big projects in the pipeline. The most high profile is one connecting Chicago’s airport to the downtown area 17 miles away. It was first announced back in June, but three months later mayor Rahm Emanuel announced his intention not to seek re-election for a third term. The new mayor is set to take office in May 2019, starting a countdown timer to get the project through city hall to avoid his successor canceling the project. After that’s done, Musk previously stated that construction could start within three to four months.
“It’s a very quick timetable that they’re under, but not impossible,” Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, told the Chicago Tribune.
Another project, outlined in August, would connect the Los Angeles Dodger stadium to the red line of the metro, forming a 3.6-mile tunnel. Mayor Eric Garcetti has voiced his support for the project:
More far-flung projects involve connecting Washington, D.C. to New York, and even building a hyperloop with speeds of up to 700 mph.
The Bored Company
Experts are skeptical that Musk can solve some of the biggest issues that plague transportation textbooks.
“Elon Musk’s comments seem to indicate he believes we can swamp transportation demand with new capacity provided by tunnels,” James Moore, director of the transportation engineering program at the University of Southern California, tells Inverse. “We cannot, but it seems to be his story and he is sticking to it. He indicates he wants the public authority to adopt this approach, which means spending public resources on tunnels, a lot of tunnels.”
Instead, Moore claims, authorities should focus on proven methods for shaping road usage like congestion charges.
“We will get much farther with respect to congestion relief much faster and much more cheaply if we take delivery on the findings from the last 60 years of literature on transportation economics and internalize the external cost of congestion in form of electronic congestion tolls,” Moore says. “We will also tap a revenue source for providing road supply, which we will need if we successfully move away from fossil fuels and fuel taxes.”
19 Predictions for 2019: What Inverse Thinks
The outlook is hazy on whether The Boring Company’s bigger ideas will come to fruition. With the Chicago line receiving high support from the mayor’s office, the first public tunnel could prove whether the basic concept is sound or requires some finessing. Inverse predicts that 2019 is the year when The Boring Company switches from eccentric hat maker to actually living up to its namesake.
Related video: New Video Shows Completed Boring Company Test Tunnel