Last week brought us the TED2017 conference, the annual future-looking soapbox for white male tech founders born into wealth (they prefer the term ‘serial entrepreneurs’) to propose solutions no one ever asked for to deferential and politely clapping audiences. Inventor of the wildly popular Tesla electric car Elon Musk did not disappoint during his TED talk slot Friday, taking time out from his busy schedule of union-busting and model-banging to propose a brand new network of underground tunnel-based superhighways that could whisk passengers at speeds of nearly 125 miles per hour and make traffic congestion a thing of the past. One example route he gave: You could get from Westwood in LA to LAX in five minutes, as opposed to the 30 to 60 minutes it would take via the 405.
Musk calls it a “3D tunnel network”, ostensibly because inclusion of the word “3D” will seduce billions more in venture capital from angel investors. As we see from the above animated rendering above from Musk’s Boring Company that intends to build these elaborate underground networks, cars would simply drive up to street-level elevator platforms and be lowered into trolley-powered subterranean highways in cities of the future that otherwise contain no existing forms of plumbing or underground infrastructure that might inhibit the tunnels’ construction.
“There's no real limit to how many levels of tunnel you can have,” Musk mused in his TED talk. “You can go much further deep than you can go up. The deepest mines are much deeper than the tallest buildings are tall, so you can alleviate any arbitrary level of urban congestion with a 3D tunnel network. This is a very important point. So a key rebuttal to the tunnels is that if you add one layer of tunnels, that will simply alleviate congestion, it will get used up, and then you'll be back where you started, back with congestion. But you can go to any arbitrary number of tunnels, any number of levels.”
Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging...— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 17, 2016
The idea was apparently born from Musk’s December 2016 road rage tweet seen above.
A few civil engineers have weighed in on the ease and logistics of Musk’s proposed high-speed transit tunnels. “I would put what Mr. Musk is saying today in the bulls**t category,” engineering consultant Thom Neff told Wired. “The idea of Musk thinking he can have this magic machine and go in there full bore, it’s not gonna happen.”
For a full version of Musk’s TED Talk last week, check out the video above. And for a full perspective on the massive improbability that Musk’s nationwide network of tunnels could ever become reality, check out San Francisco’s Central Subway project, an underground development that started four years ago, is still scheduled to tear up downtown for another whole two years, and will cover but a measly 1.7 miles.