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Elon Musk Wants to Build Beach Tunnels in Fort Lauderdale

The Boring Company has proposed to build a pair of tunnels that would shuttle riders to the city’s beachfront in self-driving Teslas. But there are still cost and environmental concerns that need to be resolved before approval.

(TNS) — Inquiring minds want to know just how Elon Musk’s Boring Company will dig a pair of underground tunnels from downtown Fort Lauderdale to the beach in flood-prone South Florida on the cheap.

The Boring Company’s 29-page pitch, submitted to the city in June but only recently made public, holds some clues to the ambitious plan.

The tunnels would not be for your car or mine, but would eventually use self-driving Teslas as a form of public transportation, shuttling riders east and west from the Brightline Station to the famous beachfront intersection of Las Olas and A1A. To start out, the Teslas would have drivers.

Mayor Dean Trantalis has been championing the project for months, saying underground tunnels could be one way to lessen the pain of downtown gridlock and get more cars off the road.

Here’s how things would work, based on details laid out in The Boring Co. documents and interviews with city officials.

Las Olas Loop

The plan’s Las Olas Loop would send passengers through a pair of 2.7-mile tunnels spanning several blocks under Las Olas, with up to five stops, leading all the way to the beach. Teslas would speed along at 50 to 70 mph, slowing down at bends.

“We figure the ride from one end to the other will be about three to four minutes,” Trantalis said, adding, “It’s not going to be just a dark cave. There’ll be lights. There will be music. There may be a narration: ‘Welcome to Fort Lauderdale,’ talking about who we are.” Passengers will also be able to use their cellphones during the ride.

The city has not yet worked out how much fares will be. The mayor at one point mentioned charging $5, but that’s not set in stone.

Fear Factor

Critics are still wondering if underground tunnels make sense in South Florida, with its king tides, hurricanes and porous limestone bedrock. Some worst-case scenario questions: What happens if there’s a fire in the tunnel? What if a Tesla being driven on Autopilot goes rogue? What happens if the tunnel floods?

“What happens if Mars hits Earth?” an exasperated Trantalis said after hearing the list of safety concerns. “There are multiple safety features to anticipate any type of calamity. Not just fire safety equipment, but escape routes, sprinkler systems, ventilation systems. We have a long history in this country of using tunnels for transportation.”

Final approval is likely months away as the city’s experts and consultants embark on a due diligence journey.

“This has to be properly and thoroughly vetted,” Commissioner Steve Glassman said. “In my opinion, there’s no rush because this has to be done right. The geology has to be studied. We have to talk to everyone who’s an expert on soil. We have to really pick the brains of everyone who is an expert.”

Glassman says he’s heard from fans excited about the beach tunnel and from critics who think it’s a dumb idea.

“People made fun of the Wright brothers,” he said. “People made fun of Thomas Edison. We have to be a little bit bolder. We have to look to the future. People are moving here in droves. And we have to figure out how to move them around. If this is successful, we need to create a network of tunnels. We are going to face a transportation crunch and we need to consider all options.”

How Can Musk Build Tunnels Fast and Cheap?

Underground tunnels usually cost around $1 billion a mile, but Musk’s team claims they can build them for $10 million a mile using special technology that’s faster and cheaper than traditional methods.

New technology allows crews to excavate the hole, remove the dirt and install segments of the concrete superstructure simultaneously. That means the equipment operates 15 times faster.

Traditional tunneling requires the construction of special drills for each project, but Musk is standardizing tunnel size and reusing his equipment, much the way SpaceX reuses rockets. Additionally, the boring machinery operates on electric power rather than diesel, allowing equipment to operate longer without having to ventilate the tunnel.

Will the Technique Change to Accommodate South Florida Soil?

That remains to be seen. When The Boring Co. made its original proposal, Trantalis says it was based on general conditions. Now they’re doing a deeper dive on their investigation. The city’s Public Works Department is also hiring consultants to collaborate with The Boring Co., Trantalis said.

How the Transit Loop Works

A station won’t require all traffic to stop when a passenger wants to disembark. Each station will have a pull-off area to allow other vehicles to speed on by.

Stations can range from the size of a car to a large subway-style venue depending on the needs of the station location.

The loop could start out with a small number of vehicles for start-up operations or non-peak periods and add more for high-demand times.

Service would start with drivers, with automated transit as the eventual goal.

Why Use Teslas and Not Trams?

With a tram system, riders might wait 20 minutes for a tram to arrive.

In the Musk setup, a Tesla would be waiting at the station to immediately take passengers to the next stop on their destination. While trams would stop at each station, the Tesla would take passengers from pickup to drop-off without stops in between.

Potential Expansion

The Las Olas Loop project would cost under $100 million, the mayor says.

In theory, Musk’s loop tunnels can be expanded to connect to other key destinations within the city and beyond. The tunnel network could provide service to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Port Everglades to the south, the Tri-Rail Station to the west and the Galleria mall and Inter Miami’s DRV PNK soccer stadium to the north.

What are the Hurdles?

Fort Lauderdale has to find a way to pay for it.

Even if the city had the money in hand, several government agencies could stand in the way.

The project is located predominantly within city right-of-way.

But right-of-way permits and easements will be required from other agencies: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, state Department of Transportation, Broward County, Florida East Coast Railway and potentially private property owners.

How Did This All Start?

It started with a tweet.

Tech billionaire Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, sparked a flurry of tweets in January with this message: “Cars & trucks stuck in traffic generate megatons of toxic gases & particulate, but @boringcompany road tunnels under Miami would solve traffic & be an example to the world. Spoke with @RonDeSantisFL about tunnels last week. If Governor & Mayor want this done, we will do it.”

Trantalis tweeted back: “Fort Lauderdale would love to be a part of this discussion. We have #tunnelvision in the #magicregion!”

The following month, Trantalis was in Las Vegas to discuss the possibility of building tunnels in Fort Lauderdale to help alleviate gridlock.

Officials with The Boring Co. visited Fort Lauderdale in March to look over the terrain and get a better feel for how the beach loop would work.

Musk started The Boring Co. in 2016 after growing weary of traffic gridlock in Los Angeles. In a tweet, he said “traffic is driving me nuts” and promised to “build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging.”

Two years later, Musk and his team built a mile-long test tunnel at his SpaceX headquarters in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne. It was built at a cost of $10 million and accommodates Teslas at speeds of up to 150 mph.

©2021 South Florida Sun Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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