Elon Musk to dig tunnel to ease traffic in LA, but he doesn’t yet have permission

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The SpaceX and Tesla CEO announced his plans to start digging in a month or so, but city planning bodies say he doesnt have the permits required

Elon Musk announced plans to start digging a traffic-easing tunnel under Los Angeles in a month or so, but city planning bodies say he doesnt yet have permission.

The SpaceX and Tesla CEO has been mulling the idea since December, when he revealed his frustrations with congestion in the city. Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging, he said on Twitter.

It shall be called The Boring Company, he added. Boring, its what we do.

At the time it wasnt clear whether he was joking, but todays announcement suggested he was not.

Elon Musk (@elonmusk)

Exciting progress on the tunnel front. Plan to start digging in a month or so.

January 25, 2017

Musk claimed he would start to drill the tunnel near his office at SpaceX, which is in the city of Hawthorne in Los Angeles County, a short distance from LAX airport. He hadnt revealed any further details of his planned route but has considered the risk of earthquakes.

Responding to a Twitter user worried about the impact of a quake on the tunnel, he said: Earthquakes tend to have the biggest effect on the surface, like waves on water. Thats why LA can have a (lame, but getting better) subway.

The Guardian contacted several of the bodies involved in decision-making about new infrastructure in the area. Arnold Shadbehr, the city manager of Hawthorne, told the Guardian: They have been in preliminary engineering mode and in discussions with us back and forth since a few months ago but no permit has been issued yet.

Neither the Los Angeles department of city planning nor the bureau of engineering were aware of any permit applications or even contact from Musk or his team. A spokeswoman from the bureau of engineering said that building a tunnel beneath any public right of way would require city council approval.

The California department of transportation spokesman said there was no permit application for any such work submitted.

Nor was there any conceptual meeting by any potential permit applicant for such a proposal within Los Angeles and Ventura Counties (District 7).

Even if Musk were to get approval, there are a number of additional hurdles he would need to overcome. The first is the incredible challenge of digging tunnels. Tunnels under Boston and Seattle have experienced enormous, unexpected and expensive problems while under construction. Bostons Big Dig tunnel project cost upwards of $15bn, while the Highway 99 Seattle project has been delayed by two years because of a broken down tunnel machine called Bertha.

A third and this ones a biggie is that its not clear that adding such a tunnel would have the desired effect. A number of studies have shown that creating wider or new roads reduces congestion in the short term, but not in the long term. Less traffic encourages more people to consider driving, a phenomenon known as induced demand. Its a paradox thats well known by the California department of transportation, which released a paper in November 2015 titled Increasing Highway Capacity Unlikely to Relieve Traffic Congestion.

This means it wont be long before Musks tunnel becomes just as boring as the roads above ground.

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