Can Elon Musk Fix America’s Traffic Woes With Tunnels?

Senior Contributor
01.25.17 6 Comments

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Humanity has been poking under the Earth as long as we’ve been able to dig. New York City’s main water supply is a four-mile-wide, 85 mile long tunnel called the Delaware Aqueduct. Guangzhou, China, has a 35 mile tunnel for its subway. And now, Elon Musk is apparently planning to dig a few himself. But can he really get into tunneling underground?

The genesis of all this was, apparently, Musk’s annoyance with traffic:

Most wrote the tweet off as a joke, but then this showed up a few hours ago:

Musk jokes the tunnel will start at his desk, but cities have been shoving traffic underground for decades, whether it’s roadway tunnels or subways. Seattle, for example, has been digging a nearly two-mile tunnel that, when completed, will put State Route 99 underneath its downtown with a two-story road structure.

Tunnels are popular for a reason. Being able to tuck vital infrastructure underground, well away from the elements, has its virtues, and it’s also a lot easier to just burrow under somebody’s private real estate than it is to try and either take it from them via eminent domain or build around it in some way. It also means that you don’t have to worry about something being an eyesore, which has a certain appeal. And Musk, of all people, is likely curious about tunnels since he wants to build a high-speed train called the Hyperloop, where air is sucked out of a tunnel to reduce friction.

That said, for all the jokes about tunneling being “boring,” it’s often exciting, but rarely in a fun way. Bertha, the giant drill Seattle is using to excavate the tunnel, has so far missed her key milestones for the tunnel, screwed up traffic, and generally made life miserable for Seattle even as she’s only managed to complete about two-thirds of her two mile route over the last three years. When she broke, engineers literally had to brave pressures that resembled what deep sea divers face to fix her at an estimated cost of $143 million.

And all of these, of course, are public projects with the permits squared away. Tunnels are absurdly complex and expensive civil engineering projects, which is why you don’t see people out in their yards digging private walkways to their jobs. Any tunnel longer than a few feet would be a complicated engineering project that would have to be done slowly and carefully to ensure the tunnel was safe both for those above it and those using it.

Of course, maybe Elon Musk just wants to own a giant freaking drill. And hey, can you blame him? If we had his money, we’d probably buy one too.

(via The Verge

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