Elon Musk, the billionaire SpaceX and Tesla founder, has taken on some big challenges, like sending rockets into space and building electric cars. Now he wants to fix a different sort of problem -- LA's notoriously gridlocked traffic -- by building a freeway underground. He's even started tunneling near Space X headquarters in Hawthorne. Is this just a wild idea or a real solution to our traffic woes?
A few years ago Musk was saying the 405 needed to be turned into a double-decker freeway. He's also behind the Hyperloop ultra-high speed capsule in a tube idea that's now being developed by various enterprises.
Now he's turned his attention to an old-school form of connection: tunnels.
He first teased the plans in a series of tweets, saying LA's terrible traffic inspired him to launch a firm, the Boring Company.
Over the weekend, according to Wired Magazine, workers excavated a "test trench" 30 feet wide, 50 feet long, and 15 feet deep on the grounds of SpaceX's Los Angeles headquarters.
Musk calls it the beginning of an experiment. "We're just going to figure out what it takes to improve tunneling speed by, I think, somewhere between 500 and 1,000 percent," he said Sunday during a hyperloop design competition at SpaceX. "We have no idea what we're doing - I want to be clear about that."
There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Musk's timeline. LA Metro currently has two large tunneling projects going on -- The Crenshaw/LAX Line, which is soon to complete the tunnel part of the project in a couple months, after a year of digging. Then there's the downtown regional connector, with tunneling expected to begin this week at First and Alameda in Little Tokyo.
But it's been a two year process to plan this tunneling project before they could start boring. They had to go through environmental review, a bidding then a permitting process with city and agencies.
Then -- and this is key to tunneling -- they have to make sure nothing is in the way. There is a mass of stuff underground, from electrical to sewage lines, and it takes months and money to assess the soils with core drillings and then remove and re-position utilities in the path of the tunnel boring machine.
Who might pay for this project? Could federal funding bridge the gap? We know Musk met with President Donald Trump to discuss US manufacturing, and he's been a supporter of Trump's new Secretary of State, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. And Trump has promised to increase spending on infrastructure projects. Then again, LA is a "sanctuary city" and Trump has vowed to cut off federal funding to such cities. So, who knows.
Meanwhile LA Metro spokesman Rick Jager tells DnA, "We are always looking for financial partners here; if he's got something that the whole community can benefit from, we are all ears."
There is a non-tech answer to Musk's traffic woes -- and that's to keep finding ways to get people out of their cars.