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Musk unveils "3D highway" underground

Autonomous electric vehicles will be lowered down to the tunnel and will be able to travel at up to 150mph

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A Tesla Model X in the Hawthorne Tunnel. Picture courtesy: The Boring Company
A Tesla Model X in the Hawthorne Tunnel. Picture courtesy: The Boring Company

Entrepreneur Elon Musk has unveiled the first section of a tunnel under Los Angeles which the Tesla co-founder hopes will bring an end to “soul-crushing” traffic that “plagues every major city in the world”.

 

Although it is only 1.14 miles long at the moment, the aim is to create a tunnel network underground, with Musk stressing that there is no limit to how many tunnels that can be built on a particular route. “You could have 16 going in the same direction,” he said, likening it to a 3D highway.”

 

Members of the press were transported in a modified electric Tesla Model X SUV at speeds of up to around 50mph at the launch event this week but in the future autonomous electric vehicles will be able to travel in the tunnel at up to 150mph. For those who don’t own a vehicle, continuously operated cars will run in the loop.

 

The test tunnel

 

The tunnel was built by Musk’s The Boring Company in Hawthorne, California and will be used for its research and development into tunnelling and public transportation systems. The route leaves Musk’s SpaceX property south of 120th Street, turns west under 120th Street, and remains under 120th Street for up to two miles.

 

“The inherent problem with how cities are built is that you have all these tall buildings in 3D and a road network built in 2D,” said Musk at the launch event. “Everyone wants to go in and out of this 3D building at the same time and this necessarily results in traffic. So you have to make transport 3D.”

 

Modified electric cars will be lowered into the tunnel and the company is building a “loop lift” in a garage in Hawthorne. This is to demonstrate that a lift can be built in small footprints whether within existing office buildings and houses or retail parking lots. The Boring Company said that, looking forward, there could be a lift in the basement of every office building to facilitate extremely convenient commutes.

“The inherent problem with how cities are built is that you have all these tall buildings in 3D and a road network built in 2D”

Musk said that the major advantages of a tunnel system is that it is “weatherproof” and there is “no practical limit” how deep you can go. He also claimed that communities wouldn’t see, hear or feel construction noise on the surface and unlike freeways or surface transit, their creation doesn’t divide neighbourhoods or close streets.

 

“You don’t have to railroad through communities,” he said. “You can weave The Boring Company tunnel system into the fabric of a city without changing the character of the city. You will have this revolutionary transport system and your city will still feel like your city.”

 

Of course, the problem with tunnels is that they take time to build and are expensive with Musk making the point that the fastest tunnelling machine available is 14 times slower than a snail. “Tunnelling technology needs revolutionising,” he said, claiming that The Boring Company can do a mile in a week.

 

As well as the transportation tunnel, Musk also envisages utility tunnels which municipalities could use for water mains and electric cables. He returned to the main aim of the tunnel though, which is to end congestion, explaining that tunnels would have more stations than a tube system these would be interspersed throughout a city so as not to “dump a ton of traffic into one location”.

 

“It will ensure people get closer to their destination and don’t disrupt the traffic pattern around the loop exits,” he said.

 

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The Hawthorne Tunnel under Los Angeles. Picture courtesy: The Boring Company
The Hawthorne Tunnel under Los Angeles. Picture courtesy: The Boring Company
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