- Asa Mathat | D: All Things Digital
Elon Musk is planning to build a tunnel, but it’s probably not the tunnel you’ve heard of.
In late December, Musk said via Twitter that he wanted to build a tunnel because traffic was driving him nuts. Early Wednesday morning, Musk said on Twitter he was making progress with his tunnel plan and that digging will commence in a month or so.
But the tunnel project, at least in its current form, isn’t designed to provide an alternative route to cut down on traffic, but to help SpaceX employees get to the company’s parking lot.
Exciting progress on the tunnel front. Plan to start digging in a month or so.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 25, 2017
Musk tweeted Wednesday morning that the tunnel will start on the SpaceX campus at the intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and Interstate 105, which is five minutes away from Los Angeles International Airport.
Starting across from my desk at SpaceX. Crenshaw and the 105 Freeway, which is 5 mins from LAX
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 25, 2017
Hawthorne City Manager Arnie Shadbehr told The Los Angeles Daily News that Musk has been working with city officials for about a year to build a tunnel under Crenshaw Boulevard that would let employees cross from the SpaceX campus to its parking lot across the busy Boulevard.
Shadbehr said Musk doesn’t need permits because the project is commencing on SpaceX’s property. But Shadbehr added that extending the tunnel under Interstate 105 would be a more extensive project.
A spokesperson for the city of Los Angeles’ permit division told Business Insider that it is “not aware of any permit applications for a tunnel beneath the Public Right of Way.”
“Any such permit application for a tunnel beneath the Public Right of Way would require City Council approval per Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 62.02(a),” the spokesperson added.
A spokesperson for the California Department of Transportation told Business Insider it has not had any contact with Musk or SpaceX about building a tunnel, adding that such a project would require multiple permits from the city of Los Angeles and state of California as well as environmental tests.
SpaceX and the City of Hawthorne did not return Business Insider’s requests for comment.
Why build a tunnel?
Musk tweeted that he wanted to dig a tunnel because of traffic at around 5 am PT on December 17, just a few hours after three SpaceX employees were hit by a car crossing Crenshaw Boulevard after a day’s work, NBC Los Angeles reported at the time.
Based on the LA Daily News report, the primary purpose of the tunnel – which will be 50-feet deep and 50-to-100 feet wide – was to give employees a safer way to get across Crenshaw to the parking lot. It will also allow Tesla to transport its equipment.
However, Musk implied in his tweet that he was pursuing the idea because he was sitting in traffic.
“Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging,” he tweeted on December 17. “It shall be called ‘The Boring Company.”
After sending that tweet, Musk added “tunnels” to his Twitter bio alongside his current ventures: Tesla, SpaceX, and OpenAI.
Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging…
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 17, 2016
Musk has been a proponent of using tunnels to cut down on congestion for a few years. He brought up the topic on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “StarTalk” radio show in March 2015 when he said tunnels were a far better way to reduce traffic than flying cars would be.
“If you were to extrapolate that to cars and have more car tunnels, then you would alleviate congestion completely. You would not need a flying car in that case,” Musk said at the time. “And it would always work, even if the weather is bad. It would never ice up, and it would never fall on your head.”
But even though SpaceX is gearing up to begin digging a tunnel on its property, Musk will need additional permits to extend the project so it could be used as an alternative transit route.
Musk has met with President Donald Trump, who has said he plans to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure projects, twice – once in New York, with other tech CEOs, and more recently in the White House, for a discussion on US manufacturing with other company executives.
That could help Musk get some political leverage to make his tunnel vision a reality, especially since it could create quite a few American jobs.