Elon Musk is totally, hilariously serious about tunneling his way out of traffic jams
Musk thinks it’s cool to be boring.
Elon Musk is laughing all the way to the center of the Earth.
After the idea to build tunnels hit him while stuck in traffic late last year, he went ahead and founded a business to disrupt the tunneling industry — called the Boring Company (surprisingly, the URL was available). Chatting with a Bloomberg reporter, he revealed the two other names he says he considered: Tunnels R Us and American Tubes and Tunnels, or AT&T for short.
At this point you might think Musk is just having a bit of fun with everybody over a brief fixation with tunnels, but he’s — apparently — totally serious. And he’s already made one really big hole in the SpaceX parking lot in Hawthorne, California, to prove it.
Musk recently took the reporter on a tour of the hole and his brain — at least the parts that are thinking about building an underground network of tunnels for cars. And, like his ideas for electric cars and commercial space travel, his ambitions are huge.
Musk envisions a vast network of tunnels, up to 30 levels deep, for cars, rail and possibly even hyperloops (assuming that project ever becomes real). Asked whether such "megatunnels" would destabilize the ground, Musk pointed to the mining industry as an example of how to dig deep, sometimes complex tunnels with minimal surface disruption (although, safety-wise, it probably wasn’t the best example).
Musk also wants to attack the extreme costs associated with earth-moving. He thinks the current costs — which he estimates at $1 billion per mile — are "crazy." Believing he can get the right people to figure out how to build a better tunneling machine, Musk hopes to get costs down and productivity up: In the report, he proposes boring through 1 mile of tunnel in a week (the weekly rate of his current machine is 300 feet), although he’s clearly spitballing in the moment.
Wouldn’t flying cars potentially give you even more levels of traffic, without all the inconvenient and expensive tunneling?
Wouldn’t flying cars potentially give you even more levels of traffic, without all the inconvenient and expensive tunneling? Yes, but Musk thinks they’ll never work, especially in cities, for a simple reason: stuff falls. “If somebody doesn’t maintain their flying car, it could drop a hubcap and guillotine you,” he colorfully describes. It’s a hard point to argue against.
While the actual tunneling is slow going, you’ll get whiplash looking at how fast Musk is moving. After breaking ground on a Friday in January, Musk apparently said, "Hey, what’s the biggest hole we can make by Sunday evening?"
The quote is classic Musk. At this point, his name is almost synonymous with disruption thanks to his successes with Tesla and SpaceX, and now he apparently feels he can disrupt whole industries on a whim. And there’s reason to believe he can — within weeks of his traffic-jam moment, he had created the company and leased the huge earth-moving equipment needed to begin, well, boring.
Musk’s plan is also coming at an opportune time. The Trump administration has big plans to boost investment in infrastructure, and the Boring Company could end up being a beneficiary. It probably doesn’t hurt that Musk is also on Trump’s team of economic advisers.
So where is Musk’s "demo tunnel" headed? He’s not saying, but considering his track record and stated ambitions for the Boring Company, it’s not a comedy club.