Elon Musk’s latest Texas venture: Boring tunnels

Musk’s Boring Company wants to use subterranean tunnels to move people and freight. He’s building an R&D facility in the Central Texas town of Bastrop.

By Rhonda Fanning & Michael MarksFebruary 22, 2022 11:02 am, ,

Cities across Texas devote plenty of resources to finding solutions to traffic problems. But so far, efforts to expand road capacity have failed to keep up with demand from new residents, most of whom travel by car.

Boring Company founder Elon Musk says, the real solution to traffic congestion lies underground. His proposal is to send passengers and freight through subterranean tunnels at high speed. And now, the Boring Company is putting down deep roots in Texas.

Sarah McBride broke this story for Bloomberg News. She says Musk’s original plan was more futuristic, calling for pods that would carry people through tunnels to their destination. Current test projects in Las Vegas and Los Angeles rely on Tesla vehicles to ferry people through the tunnels.

Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Tell us a little bit more about this idea of driving traffic underground. I think Elon Musk has experimented a bit with it in Los Angeles, if I’m not mistaken.

Sarah McBride: Yes, he has. And this ideas started very futuristic. It was going to be pods underground that would move people its airplane-like speeds, which means over 700 miles an hour. Now, five years later, he’s had to revise those plans somewhat, and he’s scaled down his Boring Company so that the tunnels that exist right now – and there are some in Las Vegas, and a test tunnel in Los Angeles – use Teslas to drive people underground and dedicated tunnels. So it’s basically an electric car in a tunnel at this point. That’s not to say they couldn’t expand it back to more of the high speed idea they had in the beginning. But for right now, it’s not quite what they first envisioned, but it’s still pretty fun.

I’ve seen some pictures of it, and it frankly looks like sort of a downscaled London tube passageway. But you have a Tesla in the middle of it. And I thought to myself, you’re stuck in traffic, you’re just underground. Tell me what I’m missing here.

So far, nobody’s been exactly stuck in traffic. It was recently used at a trade show in Vegas, and lots of people used it and said, ‘oh, the cars are really slowing down as they get to stops.’ And they looked at the videos and the cars were slowing down as they came to the station in Vegas, but they weren’t actually stopping. So nobody was actually stopped in traffic as far as I could tell. I guess it depends on how you define a traffic jam. I’m from L.A. If your car’s still moving, it’s not a jam.

Tell us what your understanding is of what exactly Elon Musk is asking Texas officials to allow him to do. Is it like an R&D division or something?

Yeah, exactly. So I think he has big plans for the Boring Company in Texas. The Boring Company’s very secretive, so it’s difficult to know exactly what they’re up to. I filed a public records request because Boring purchased land in Bastrop. And I found out that they’re essentially planning an R&D facility there, and they’ve applied for and been given development permission to tunnel underground and work on test tunnels. None of them are going to be particularly long, but it’s crucial for allowing them to figure out how to dig very quickly elsewhere, how to move earth out of the tunnels quickly, how to do turns with the tunnels, how to dig down without excavating and how to to start the tunnel at an angle from the surface.

But what about ultimately there being tunnels in Texas? I feel like I’ve heard something about San Antonio, to Austin, to Dallas or something along those lines.

There’s been a lot of talk about what [Musk] would like to do. He’s a big talker and then eventually most of what he says does come true. But long after he said it. So he’s expressed a desire to build in Texas. He loves the regulatory environment in Texas. He had a facility much like the one in Bastrop, in Adelanto, California, but regulations in California are much tighter. It takes a long time to get permission to do anything. In Bastrop County. It was a little easier. He filed the applications, got the permits relatively quickly and has put into practice these plans. But even in Texas, you can’t just announce you’re going to build a tunnel and start digging. There are environmental plans you have to do and so on. So everything takes a long time. It’s not, like in two years, there’s going to be a tunnel between Austin and San Antonio or even between downtown Austin and his gigafactory. It’s just going to take some time.

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