Connecting state and local government leaders

More Tidbits Surface on Elon Musk’s Advancing Tunneling Operation


Connecting state and local government leaders

Making his vision for a system of near-frictionless transport tubes a reality still requires things like permitting.

Elon Musk news keeps bubbling up onto the Web from deep underground.

In January, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX began tweeting that he was making “exciting progress on the tunnel front.”

He was talking about his plan to address “soul-destroying” urban commutes by building underground tube systems connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco and Washington to New York—the “hyperloop” near-frictionless tunnels that he has said can safely propel car-carrying pods hundreds of miles per hour.

In May came video of a hypnotizing 30-second vanishing-point ride through a test tunnel.

In July came news that digging was beginning in Maryland.

On Saturday, Musk tweeted a photo of what looks like a completed section of the two-mile tube his Boring Company is digging in Hawthorne, California, under the L.A.-area SpaceX headquarters.    

Indeed, news about Musk’s super-tunnel projects has come mostly via his own Twitter account—and partly for that reason has been met on occasion with skepticism by reporters who this year can be forgiven for becoming Twitter fatigued.

In February, the LA Weekly dismissed reports that Musk was doing any serious tunneling in Hawthorne. A public records request filed by the paper demonstrated that Musk lacked required health and safety permits.

In response to tweets from Musk in July, The Washington Post likewise seemed to sigh.

“Musk has been known to talk big and sometimes overpromise,” wrote reporters Michael Laris and Brian Fung.

When Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan tweeted Oct. 19 that digging would begin soon in his state, Laris wrote that the governor seemed to be “taking a cue from the big-splash, low-information PR strategy of Elon Musk.”

The Post reported that Musk had secured a mere “utility permit” to dig about 10 miles of tunnel starting near Fort Meade, in Anne Arundel County, under the state-owned portion of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

In a follow-up published last week, the Post added that the project was set to begin by carving out two 35-mile tunnels between Baltimore and Washington, but would then need to secure permits to bore some 215 more miles underground through Maryland and 400-plus additional miles along the Interstate 95 corridor to New York. It quoted an observer estimating that the project would slice through several major cities, six states and 17 counties, which represents a mountain of permitting to bore through.

Still, as Quartz argued this week, Elon Musk has an Elon Musk kind of plan. He says his underground tubes aren’t like the underground tubes of the past: They’re not being made to carry train cars, so they’re narrower, and they’re dug with machines that drill faster through the earth and do so continuously. This boring is less disruptive than the boring of the past. In other words, spectacular technology will find its own way.

Indeed, officials in states that have struggled to update crumbling highway systems are closely watching hyperloop developments, states that include low-tax, long-distance Colorado, where the entire Front Range, from Pueblo in the south to the Wyoming border, has become one enormous and clogged commuter zone.

John Tomasic is a journalist based in Seattle.

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