The first electic-vehicle freeway tunnel designed and built by Elon Musk’s Boring Co. could begin construction as soon as October across from SpaceX in Hawthorne.
The City Council late Tuesday unanimously approved an agreement among The Boring Co., global design firm WSP, and the city to uncover and offset any potential environmental and health effects from the project.
That review will go on for up to three months but could finish as early as next month, officials believe. Then, the City Council will have to decide whether to seek more aggressive environmental reviews.
“The rest of the world is looking at Hawthorne for this test site,” Councilman Haidar Awad said. “We’re going to be the first ones to implement it. But we just started. We’re at the beginning. We’re going into kind of new waters, so we’re just making sure everyone’s safe. We want to protect every party in this situation.”
The Boring Co. has submitted plans for the tunnel’s first 2 miles from SpaceX headquarters at Crenshaw Boulevard and Rocket Road north to 120th Street, then east to Hawthorne Boulevard.
Councilwoman Angie English said she’s not yet comfortable with the idea.
“What are the future endeavors that this so-called Boring Company is hoping to do in our city?” English asked. “This is really surprising to me that we’re here tonight discussing a Boring Company out of the blue.”
‘Musk likes to move quick’
Last week, Hawthorne Mayor Alex Vargas met with Musk to tour the tunnel entrance that was built quickly after The Boring Co. acquired a used tunnel-boring machine in May.
The tunnel entrance, 20 feet below ground, is about 500-feet long in SpaceX’s old parking lot. The company is now finishing construction of a pedestrian bridge on the same corner that connects its offices to its new parking garage across the street.
On Wednesday morning, Musk shared video on his Instagram account of a newly built vehicle elevator the size of a parking spot that delivers electric cars into the tunnel. Once inside, they will sit on skates that move them through the structure, he has said.
Ultimately, he hopes to give cars, bikes and pedestrians elevator access into the tunnel network.
Vargas said Musk gave him a tour of the system and its “wonderful, awesome, cutting-edge technology” and praised him for boosting the city’s finances as it struggles with back-to-back budget deficits.
“Elon Musk likes to move quick,” Vargas said. “That’s a good thing. (We) want to have continuous progress. We want this to succeed. We’re behind him on this. My concern is to make sure the city is protected and to make sure this goes off without a hitch.”
Interim City Manager Arnie Shadbehr, who is also the city’s public works director, is working closely with government agencies to vet the tunnel project.
The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, and the Los Angeles County Fire Department are now reviewing the plans, Shadbehr said. The Federal Aviation Administration also has to approve it because it has fiber optic lines underground nearby.
The tunnel is planned to gradually angle deeper underground, from 20 feet to about 43 feet deep, to avoid conflicts with utility lines, Shadbehr said.
“We will independently review calculations associated with air pollution emissions from construction of the tunnel and other information provided, and will evaluate potential environmental impacts in all issue areas,” WSP design officials said in a letter to the city.
The community won’t even notice the tunneling because vibrations from construction won’t reach the surface, Shadbehr said. Excavated dirt will likely be collected in SpaceX’s old parking lot and trucked away.
“We love SpaceX. We are proud of them. We will work with them but, as the City Council mentioned, we have to make sure that we are following the rules and regulations,” Shadbehr said. “SpaceX has to prove to us all the concerns are addressed.”
Musk has said he wants to extend the Hawthorne tunnel for a total of 6 miles to Los Angeles International Airport. He’s also had positive discussions with White House officials about building a high-speed Hyperloop tunnel network from New York City to Washington, D.C., according to public statements from Musk and federal officials.
“Just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins,” Musk wrote on his public Twitter account on July 20. “Verbal approval was at Federal level. Still a lot of work before formal, written approval, but this opens door for state & city discussions.”
White House officials confirmed the discussions, saying: “We have had promising conversations to date (and) are committed to transformative infrastructure projects.”
The Hyperloop, a concept Musk introduced in 2013, is being developed by several commercial companies, including Hyperloop One in Los Angeles. The company finished the first full test of its electro-magnetic propelled Hyperloop train in May. It’s now working to increase the system’s speed to reach hundreds of miles per hour.
While Musk has said that the tunneling network on the East Coast would be built for the Hyperloop, he hasn’t mentioned using the electric train system in Hawthorne.
“He’s also talking about (building tunnels) to Culver City and to San Francisco. Everything outside our borders is somebody else’s concern,” Vargas said. “The synergy Elon Musk creates for the city of Hawthorne is phenomenal — with reusable rockets, Tesla’s design center, solar cells being developed here, and now we have The Boring Co.”