Are The Boring Company’s tunnels better suited for walking?
Photo: The Boring Company
Much like the dizzying spin of a tunnel boring machine chewing through a pedestal, city leaders from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Miami have fallen under the influence of The Boring Company, Elon Musk’s relentless quest to dig holes to “finish traffic” under cities. But the latest city to devour Musk’s tone is an amazing city. In the suburbs just south of Austin, the city of Kyle, Texas (pop. 45,697) is set to agree to The Boring Company’s proposal for a pedestrian tunnel connecting two planned projects on either side of the Union Pacific Railroad. There is no final estimate yet, nor is there an exact tunnel length, although The Boring Company is asking $50,000 to start the project. However, it may not cost the city anything, because Kyle officials say they have already secured up to $3 million in funding from private developers. Is Elon Musk finally building tunnels that might prioritize people over cars? Sounds too good to be true!
Looking at the meager details of Cale’s suggestion, something wasn’t quite right. The area clearly needs better pedestrian connectivity – there’s an overpass for the highway at less than 500 feet that allows cars to pass easily over the paths but are difficult to reach on foot – however, it’s not immediately clear why a tunnel is needed. With intermittent freight and a few Amtrak trains per day, there is not much rail traffic on this part of the railroad. Most of the nearby crossings are simple roads similar to this level. These crossings could certainly be improved with wider sidewalks as well as sheltered walkways for other styles. While the proposal states that bicycles, scooters, and small electric vehicles, such as golf carts, will also be allowed in the tunnel, it is difficult (though not impossible) to imagine how all of these modes would safely share what would be a ten-foot wide underground paved surface.
The proposed tunnel would travel under railways connecting two yet-to-be-built projects on both sides.
Photo: The Boring Company
What’s really happening in Kyle is the result of the welcome wagon tour that Boring conducted after the company (and Musk) moved to Texas last year. To please local officials, The Boring Company made visits to cities large and small across the state, where it proposed tunnel projects that were supposed to solve all their problems. In the Austin area alone, The Boring Company pursues multiple tunnels — all for cars — with one 12-mile road going from downtown to the new Tesla Gigafactory, with a layover at Austin Airport. Austin employees from the city’s Department of Development Services recently traveled to Las Vegas to tour a one-mile tunnel completed there last year (and already plagued by traffic jams) “to understand best practices for allowing infrastructure for sub-level mobility.” What they saw was essentially a parking garage on a private property where the Teslas traveled with a single coil through a tunnel with no emergency exit—which the Austin Department of Transportation would never allow from a safety perspective.
At the same time, The Boring Company is significantly expanding the scope of its operations. Just in time with the unveiling of a major investment round, Mask used Twitter, a platform he now partially owns announce It’s hiring for dozens of new positions at The Boring Company, both in Vegas, where Clark County officials have agreed to expand the tunnel below the convention center, and in Austin, where a test tunnel is currently being drilled at a recently acquired site outside the city.
This expansion accompanies a new round of massive claims on the Boring Company’s revamped – and occasionally wiped out – website that the company’s tunnels will “unblock traffic.” behind Musk tweetsThere is no empirical evidence, data, or modeling to support his car-moving tunnels as a traffic solution. The tunneling technology promoted on site for pedestrian tunnel construction does not exist yet. However, local officials, mayors, and governors across the country continue to hand Musk’s money.
Kyle may soon have a shiny new pedestrian tunnel (does it get the flashing lights like Vegas too?), and it might work just fine. A short pass under some railroad tracks is better suited to Boring capabilities. Tunnels to bury utility lines, especially in areas prone to climate disasters, would be a welcome idea from Musk. He’s even promised to design pedestrian tunnels before. However, in a way, the tunnels that are built are always for cars.
Right now, some cities just don’t fall in love with Musk. When the Boring Company called earlier this year to dig tunnels into the San Antonio airport, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said no thanks. “We have a lot of transportation issues that we want to solve here in Texas and in San Antonio, frankly,” he said. “That doesn’t solve any of it.”