Elon Musk has had a rough couple of months. He was forced to step down on Oct. 2 from his position as chairman-CEO of Tesla Inc. and pay $40 million in security fraud charges stemming from tweets about taking his company private, with SEC representatives saying that he knew that potential funding at the tweeted $420-per-share price was not a done deal.
But last week Musk was at it again — this time using his social media feed to announce that plans are on track for an underground tunnel that will be built by Musk’s Boring Company, and that digging and tunneling in Hawthorne are going full steam ahead, with a free tour for the public slated for Dec. 10.
“The first tunnel is almost done,” the business magnate tweeted on Oct. 23.
News of the underground system comes at a fortuitous time for the beleaguered Musk, who in July was ridiculed after he unceremoniously inserted himself into the effort to rescue 12 Thai youth soccer players trapped in an underwater cave. Musk offered up his engineers to build a “mini-submarine” to save the boys but experts rejected his idea as too impractical. A British diver dismissed it as a “PR stunt.”
Musk then verbally attacked the diver, calling him “pedo-guy” in a tweet.
The ambitious tunnel project, known as “the Loop,” is being built not far from SpaceX’s Hawthorne office and is serving as a jumping-off point for Musk’s dream of an underground transportation system where commuters in multiple types of transport can use pods or platforms and be whisked all over Los Angeles at speeds of up to 130 miles an hour. The platforms, called “skates,” would be approximately the size of a midsized car parking space and would be lowered through elevator shafts underground before commuters are zoomed to their destinations.
The Hawthorne City Council approved construction of a tunnel last month. Boring is building an elevator shaft at a home on West 119th Avenue in Hawthorne and is near completion, according to news reports. The home was purchased by a company owned by Boring for almost $500,000 last year.
“The purpose is to demonstrate that a lift can be built in very small footprints and within existing buildings, whether they are houses, office buildings or retail parking lots. Looking forward, one could have a lift in the basement of every office building, allowing extremely convenient commutes,” Boring’s website states in response to why the “Loop Lift” is being built in a garage in Hawthorne.
Musk has said his desire is to use the Loop as a means of reducing gridlock much quicker than anyone else has proposed. He has received kudos from some transportation advocates for his tunnel plan, which would use the public right-of-way along Sepulveda Boulevard in West Los Angeles.
The tunnel would go through Culver City, where city leaders had questions about the elaborate underground transportation plan. The company made a presentation to that city’s council in January and unveiled plans for a 6.5-mile tunnel from Westchester to Brentwood, crossing Sepulveda near the Culver City border.
Culver City leaders as well as residents who spoke that night expressed concern about earthquakes, as Culver City lies near two fault lines: the Newport-Inglewood fault zone and the newly discovered Alquist-Priolo fault zone.
“Tunnels are actually one of the safest places to be in an earthquake. This is because the strongest effects of an earthquake are felt on the surface, not underground," a Boring Company spokeswoman responded.
Company representatives say drilling 14-foot-diameter tunnels about 28 feet below the surface would be practically imperceptible from above the surface.
In May, Culver City Mayor Thomas Small told CNBC there were “too many unknowns” in Musk’s plans.
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“We’re very excited about alternate modes of transportation but everyone has to go through the proper environmental review, and we’d also like to understand the transportation plan and the business plan for this project, which I don’t think they understand yet,” Small said. “This hasn’t been done before and it needs to be checked out.”
Small said he and his city council colleagues support new ways of thinking about transportation options but having more details about the safety and potential environmental obstacles is essential.
“We’re concerned that sometimes, when things seem too good to be true, they turn out to be that,” the mayor said.
Musk has not said how many free rides will be provided at the Dec. 10 event.