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Boring News: Tesla CEO’s tunnel plans may be full of holes

8

June, 2017

M. DeHart

THe Boring Company's TBM

Source: Business Insider

Even if you live under a rock you’ve probably heard about it.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, Inc., announced at the end of 2016 his intention to around Los Angeles, California.

Founding a new company, the Boring Company, tests are already underway to create a faster, more efficient way to bore tunnels large enough for civilian traffic. The ultimate goal is for the tunnel system to alleviate some of the heretofore hopeless congestion which grinds LA’s streets to a halt every day. Thus far, four routes are being planned, each originating at LAX and extending to Culver City, Santa Monica, Westwood, and Sherman Oaks in an expanse totalling around 39 miles. Eventually, Musk hopes to cover (or rather, be covered by) all of greater Los Angeles.

In April, Elon participated in a TED Talk where, among other topics, he further discussed the future of the underground roadway system. The basic idea would be a 3D network of tunnels where cars would drive onto “skates” on the surface, be lowered into the tunnel, and transported over 100 mi/h to its destination.

Current estimates show that the average mile of tunnel costs $1 billion. Musk intends on lowering that bill, which includes strategies such as building tunnels with smaller diameters, cutting drilling downtime entirely, and building faster machines.  Optimistically his tunnels would only cost $25-60 million per mile.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy at it sounds.

Finding or developing technologies for a better TBM will inevitably be the easiest part of the plan. Multi-mode machines are available for better handling changing ground conditions, and newly integrated density measurement systems track changes as they’re being excavated. Currently, TBMs in England use segmental lining technology for easier tunnel reinforcing and round-the-clock work; though making a faster drill will likely be something that Musk may have to develop himself.

When it comes to executing the project, the unknown is not on Musk’s side. Underground rock and soil is poorly mapped in any part of the country, and severe changes in the earth break TBMs on a regular basis. Hundred-year-old pipes could also litter the underground, unmapped and unknown.  

The greatest difficulty would stem from gaining government approval. Any large construction or excavation project in a well-populated city requires dozens of permits. Digging out almost 40 miles of tunnels would require years of hearings, proposals, and environmental impact studies before beginning the project. More difficulties lie in gaining the approval who live above the affected areas, who could petition a halt on progress due to fears related to tunnels being dug under their homes, schools, etc.

Despite these challenges, if the project continues we can only say, “Good luck, Mr. Musk.”

  1. http://www.businessinsider.com/elon-musk-launches-boring-company-to-dig-tunnels-2017-4
  2. https://www.ted.com/talks/elon_musk_the_future_we_re_building_and_boring#t-829315
  3. https://www.ibisworld.com/industry/tunnel-construction.html
  4. http://tunnelingonline.com/tunneling-industry-outlook-2016/

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