Is there anything this guy won’t try to do? You’ve heard about his exploits with electric cars, renewable energy, and building rockets (someday for Mars) — now, Elon Musk is taking on what without joking might be his most daunting challenge yet. Elon Musk wants to solve Los Angeles traffic.
He’s doing it with yet another new venture called The Boring Company, which he founded late last year. It’s more than just a cute name — turns out, there’s a very good reason it’s called The Boring Company, and it has nothing to do with the feeling one gets when stuck in pit of despair that is 5:00 Los Angeles freeway traffic.
They don’t call it that for the yawns. The Boring Company is founded on how to do one thing really well — boring holes in the ground. Musk plans to use tunnels to solve a lot of transportation problems, reasonably pointing out that there is lots and lots of space underground going unused!
Like usual with Musk’s enterprises, there are less exciting problems behind the scenes that need to be solved to make the awesome stuff like Mars colonization or an end to traffic happen. For Tesla, it’s not really about the cars — it’s about how to make the batteries that power them more efficient, and to make production cheaper. For SpaceX, it’s all about making rockets reusable to lower the cost of each space launch. For The Boring Company, the big problem is how to dig tunnels in a cheaper way. The key to Musk’s new plan is a tunneling machine that can reinforce the walls of the tunnel as it goes, instead of having to go back and do that in a second run. Musk thinks the cost savings here will make his Los Angeles plan viable.
If you’ve never spent time in Los Angeles, you might look at this map and not think much of it. You might even think it doesn’t make much sense! Why isn’t the triangle connected on top? But, anyone who knows Los Angeles knows the two major lines on this map immediately — it’s the dreaded Interstates 110 and 405. These highways are…often unpleasant.
Musk’s tunnels would go under these highways, and interestingly, they wouldn’t involve people giving up their cars. Instead, the tunnels would have a system of rails that would ferry cars along a track in the tunnel at roughly 150 miles per hour. The little lines that come off those highways on the maps would be the exits, and yep, that one near Hawthorne just so happens to be right next to SpaceX. Is Musk doing all of this to help his employees get to work faster? We cannot discount the possibility that solving LA traffic is a problem now intimately linked to landing humans on Mars.
The idea is to build multiple levels of tunnels to accommodate all of that LA traffic. It’d even be possible to build cars just for public transit that would go through the tunnels, which would be perfect for carpoolers! Naturally, the way cars will descend into the tunnels looks super cool. The Boring Company has already built out a stretch of tunnel under land that belongs to SpaceX, and they’re in talks with the city to keep moving forward.
Musk is full of ideas. The most famous one to be associated with Elon Musk and tunnels is the Hyperloop. It’s a proposed underground transit system that would essentially be vacuum tube travel from The Jetsons or Futurama, but you’d actually be in a vehicle. Hyperloop cars would be able to travel as fast as 700 miles per hour, making it ideal for cross-country or coastal trips.
The proposed LA tunnels could be used for the Hyperloop at some point, but that point is probably far away. Since introducing the idea a few years ago, Musk made the design open source for other companies to use, shockingly proving that Musk really does know when he has too much on his plate. One of those other companies is called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, and they introduced a design for a capsule that would fit between 28 and 40 people earlier this year.
The problem with Hyperloop as it is now is that it can’t carry enough passengers to be a real mass transit system. It would either lose a lot of money, or be forced to charge prices so high that just taking an airplane would be preferable. But, those companies are working on improving their designs, and who knows what will happen in the future — at the very least, if they get it worked out, it sounds like they’ll have tunnels in LA waiting for them!