Elon Musk’s Boring Company, an organization that I’m still partially sure is a front for Musk’s doomsday bunker, has won a bid to create an underground express transit system from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to the city downtown area. An official announcement from the city is expected this afternoon, confirming that Musk’s company beat out four other developers to win the project.
According to the concept proposal, autonomous 16-passenger vehicles will travel at 100mph through a tunnel around 18 miles long, a journey that will take around 12 minutes. Public transit from the airport to downtown currently takes approximately 45 minutes. Shuttles would leave as frequently as every 30 seconds, and the system would operate 20 hours every day. The new system will come at a cost, however: A single fare will reportedly cost around $20.
The Tribune reports that The Boring Company will shoulder all the costs of the project, which it estimates to be around $1 billion. In return, The Boring Company would keep all revenue from fares, as well as adverts and branding. The tunnels may end up belonging to the city, with a long-term lease assigned to Musk’s company.
The proposed cost — which hasn’t be confirmed by the mayor’s office or by The Boring Company — is orders of magnitude cheaper than the cost usually associated with tunneling projects, setting aside the infrastructure needed inside to run Musk’s “Express Loop” trains. The cheapest recently-constructed subway project, Madrid’s Metrosur, cost nearly $100 million per mile, and equivalent pricing would put the Express Loop at a minimum of $1.8 billion. Of course, other projects have worked out far more expensive: London’s under-construction high-speed Crossrail system is costing around $250 million per mile. New York’s Second Avenue cost $2.5 billion per mile.
Musk is banking on being able to tunnel much faster than any other company, although his technology remains unproven. So far, a test tunnel a few hundred feet has been dug in a parking lot, and the company is trying to get approval to dig a 2.7-mile test tunnel underneath LA. The Tribune says that the economic feasibility of the entire project relies on Boring’s ability to tunnel 14 times faster than other companies.
“We’re taking a bet on a guy who doesn’t like to fail — and his resources. There are a bunch of Teslas on the road. He put SpaceX together. He’s proven something,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Tribune. “The risk — with no financial risk — is I’m betting on a guy who has proven in space, auto and now a tunnel, that he can innovate and create something of the future. Given his track record, we are taking his reputation and saying, ‘This is a guy in two other transportation modes who has not failed.’ That’s what we’re doing.”