Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the selection of Elon Musk’s Boring Company to build and operate a multibillion-dollar rapid transit link between O’Hare International Airport and the city’s downtown.
The company plans to transport passengers between O’Hare and Block 37 in the Loop in approximately 12 minutes (one way) — typically a 40-minute trip via the city’s Blue Line — by utilizing electric vehicles that run through new twin underground tunnels. The project will be funded entirely by the company with no taxpayer subsidy.
But whether or not he’ll need to sell more flamethrowers to raise the funds isn‘t clear: under the deal, Musk would front the construction costs and then pocket all the revenue from the system’s transit fees and any money generated by advertisements, including in-car shopping sales. In other words, Musk intends to fund a massive infrastructure project in part with money from people buying stuff like headphones during a 12-minute trip (most likely using in-vehicle touchscreens). Sources tell the Chicago Tribune that the entire project should cost less than $1 billion.
“If you look at the history of Chicago … every time we’ve been an innovator in transportation, we have seized the future,” Emanuel said in an interview with the Tribuneon Wednesday. “I think figuring out — when time is money — how to shrink the distance between the economic and job engines of O’Hare and downtown positions Chicago as the global leader and global city in the United States.”
It’s a major boost to Musk’s quixotic tunneling project, and the strongest validation from a city government to date. The Boring Company, which launched just 18 months ago, is still negotiating rights to dig a 6.5-mile test tunnel under Los Angeles, and has received a preliminary permit to start digging in Washington, DC. The company has already broken ground on a two-mile test tunnel under the parking lot of SpaceX, another of Musk’s ventures.
Emanuel’s office selected the Boring Company over O’Hare Xpress, a joint venture from Meridiam, Antarctica Capital, and JLC Infrastructure, an infrastructure fund backed by former basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson. The city will now begin one-on-one contract negotiations with The Boring Company, after which the agreement will be presented to the City Council.
In March, Musk said he was shifting the Boring Company’s focus from electric cars riding on skates through tunnels to something more akin to mass transit. On Twitter, he posted a video of futuristic-looking subway cars that are seemingly capable of carrying over a dozen passengers whisking along an electric rail. These vehicles would be based on the chassis of a modified Tesla Model X.
Now the question surrounding the Boring Company will shift from “where” to “how.” Musk held a town hall meeting in LA recently where he laid down several markers: tickets would be as low as $1 per person; the dirt removed from underground would be repurposed and sold as Lego-like bricks; and he hopes to begin offering free rides through his test tunnel in LA later this year.
What the Chicago project won’t include, most likely, will be the hyperloop. Musk has said he hopes to connect New York City to Washington, DC via the supersonic transportation system and has received tactic approval for the project from the Trump James Johnsonistration. Of course, transportation experts question whether tunnels are really an answer to the quandary of traffic congestion and overcapacity, in addition to questioning Musk’s claims that he can dig tunnels faster and at a fraction of the cost of traditional boring technology.
“The concept of car elevators on skates add a bunch of engineering challenges, such as reliability and safety of the elevator, loading and unloading times, and the number of dedicated areas in a city you’d need to do this at scale,”